Stocks rose last week, as both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.35%) and the S&P 500 (^GSPC 0.59%) gained 2% to climb further from their lows for the year. The S&P is back out of bear market territory for 2022, down 17%, while the Dow is down 12%.
Positive earnings reports supported that boost, but earnings season really heats up over the next few trading days. McDonald's (MCD 0.74%), Procter & Gamble (PG -0.68%), and Microsoft (MSFT 0.27%) are among the most anticipated earnings reports to watch, and here we'll take a closer look at their announcements.
1. Customer traffic at McDonald's
Most investors who follow the stock are looking for McDonald's to report a slight sales decline in its Tuesday morning announcement. But that drop won't give a complete picture of growth, since it will be influenced by currency exchange swings and by the closing down of the chain's stores in Russia.
Instead, follow comparable-store sales trends, which have been positive lately. Comps rose 12% in Q1, in fact, to easily trounce rivals including Starbucks (SBUX -0.10%). People are resonating with fast drive-through and delivery services, and with its menu that offers a mix of classic staples and limited-time releases.
Investors are hoping to see evidence of continued market share gains, which would show up in positive customer traffic across most of Mickey D's geographies. But an even better reason to like the stock is the market-leading profitability that the chain enjoys. Watch for operating profit margin to again land over 40% of sales this week, more than double that of Starbucks or Domino's (DPZ 0.55%).
2. Price increases at Procter & Gamble
The bullish thesis supporting Procter & Gamble stock in 2022 will be put to another test on Thursday. The consumer-staples giant will announce results for its fiscal Q4, which runs through June.
P&G raised its sales outlook in the previous quarter, joining rival Kimberly-Clark in describing a positive demand environment for branded essentials such as laundry detergent, paper towels, and home cleaning supplies. Investors get a chance to compare both companies' latest organic sales results this week. Growth last quarter for both giants landed at a blistering 10%.
P&G's profits aren't expanding as quickly, and that's a potential warning sign looking into the new fiscal year ahead. The company will have to show that it can raise prices without sacrificing sales volumes for the stock to continue beating the market. Wall Street might also demand a positive outlook for fiscal 2023 when P&G issues its first official forecast on Thursday.
3. The PC business at Microsoft
There's no shortage of concerns heading into Microsoft's Q4 report on Tuesday. While its cloud services business is likely to have held up well in recent months, other divisions were under more pressure. Look for weakening demand in the PC segment, for example, as consumers return to working at the office. Microsoft could start seeing lower sales in the gaming division, too.
But its wider outlook is bright. Microsoft is exposed to several large growth trends, including the shift toward digital and hybrid work environments. Its pending acquisition of Activision Blizzard will establish it as a key on-ramp to the metaverse that eventually moves beyond gaming.
Watch for executives to highlight those growth avenues even as they project caution about the short-term growth picture ahead.