So much for a boost from record earnings. Despite strong results from tech giants Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)Visa (NYSE:V) reporting payments volume that was higher than 2019 levels (all reported after market close on Tuesday), and a big beat from aerospace giant Boeing (NYSE:BA) this morning as jet orders slowly recover, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is down 121 points as of 1:24 p.m. EDT on July 28. The Nasdaq Composite and Russell 2000 indexes are up today. 

So what gives? In short, the Dow Jones is an index of U.S. stocks. And despite big gains from Boeing, with shares up 5% after earnings, investors are worried that growth at Apple and Microsoft -- along with many other U.S. companies -- is set to slow going forward. The Nasdaq and Russell 2000, however, contain lots of international stocks, including many of the Chinese stocks that have taken a pummeling over the past several days. Many of those stocks are surging today, recovering some losses as investors look for opportunity after a multi-day sell-off for Chinese tech and education stocks. 

A hand moves blocks with green arrows pointing up and red arrows pointing down.

Dow Jones' U.S. stock focus is part of its sell-off today. Image source: Getty Images.

The two sides to Apple, Microsoft, Visa earnings

Apple reported another record quarter, with revenue up 36% to $75.3 billion and net income of $21.7 billion, almost double. This was an absolute crush, beating expectations for $72.9 billion in revenue and earnings per share of $0.81, versus the actual EPS of $1.30. Yet at this writing, shares were down almost 2%. 

For Microsoft, the results were also stellar. Revenue of $46.2 billion was 21% higher than last year, while earnings of $2.17 per share were up an incredible 49%. That represents an acceleration of sales from the prior quarter, especially the intelligent cloud segment, which is easily Microsoft's largest business now and growing at a 30% clip. Microsoft shares are down slightly at this writing. 

Visa similarly delivered incredible results, though the bar was lower as the credit card and electronic payment processor was "lapping" a period last year that was significantly slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. Net revenue of $6.1 billion was up 27%, while earnings increased 10% to $1.18 per share. Adjusting for certain non-recurring items, Visa said adjusted earnings were $1.49 per share, up 41%. Processed transactions were up 39%, while payments volume was up 34%. Cross-border volume -- a key measure for Visa and its peers -- was up 47%.

Visa also said its U.S. payments volume is now exceeding 2019 levels. However, cross-border monthly volume is still significantly down, coming in just over 90% of 2019 levels at constant-currency levels, while cross-border monthly volume excluding intra-Europe is closer to 80% of 2019 levels. In other words, there's still significant room to recover Visa's total transaction volumes to pre-pandemic levels. 

Add it all up, and it appears that investors just aren't convinced that the incredible rates of growth we've seen in recent quarters are going to continue. 

Why Boeing gets the market's vote as the best reopening stock in the Dow today

With shares up 5% after the earnings report this morning, investors are looking at Boeing's results and seeing opportunity for shares to continue marching higher. Boeing delivered adjusted earnings of $0.40 per share, surprising investors who expected the struggling aircraft manufacturer to report another loss. A big part of its improved result was tied to the steady return of the 737 MAX. Boeing reported 219 firm orders for new commercial aircraft in June alone, and since it was able to return the 737 MAX to service, has delivered over 130 of those jets to airlines

Add it up, and investors seem to prefer Boeing's turnaround story to the growth story continuing for the other stocks discussed. 

What investors should expect going forward

In a word, volatility. This is a big week for earnings, with one-third of Dow Jones stocks and a massive portion of the S&P 500 also announcing results, which will drive higher trading volumes and volatility than normal. That's just part of earnings season. 

The best suggestion I can offer for investors this time of each quarter is to focus on the business results, and think about the long-term implications; it's just difficult for individual investors who don't dedicate significant time and resources to make money trading stocks on short-term factors like earnings. 

Earnings matter, but not as a trading opportunity. For example, while the market focused on Boeing's recent order recovery and a surprise adjusted profit, its order book, on a net basis, adjusting for all of the cancellations, is only up just over 50 aircraft this year. Moreover, commercial air travel isn't likely to recover to 2019 levels before 2023 at the earliest; Boeing has a lot of work to do to return to its prior profitability and market value. Apple, Microsoft, and Visa, on the other hand, are delivering strong -- even record -- results, and their path to continued strong earnings and cash flows is much more clear. 

Consider those implications as you invest, and don't make things harder than they need to be. Mister Market doesn't reward bonus gains for degree of difficulty. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.