The market's rallying. You're feeling good. Heck, you're even looking pretty good. Have you lost some weight?

Unfortunately, I see that you've also been chomping away at your nails. You're not alone in your worries. I'm especially concerned about what the market will do next week.

No one said that earnings season during a recession would be easy. Several bellwethers report their quarterly financials next week, and even many of the darlings are expected to clock in lower than they did a year ago:


Latest Quarter EPS (Estimated)

Year-Ago Quarter EPS






Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)



Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO)



Merck (NYSE:MRK)



Schering-Plough (NYSE:SGP)



Hasbro (NYSE:HAS)



Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Clearing the table
There will be hundreds of companies posting lower earnings next week, but these are just a few of the names that really jump out at me.

Apple and Amazon have been perpetual market darlings. Amazon bucked the weak retailing trend to post spectacular holiday results. With the economy keeping more people at home, shouldn't be a hotbed of online shopping activity? Shouldn't the obliteration of real-world CD shops, bookstores, and Circuit City give the Seattle company a little more pricing flexibility, helping margins instead of harming them?

As for Apple, the company's flagship MacBooks seemed to sell briskly over the holidays, despite the pesky rise of bargain-priced netbooks. Digital music growth may have stalled, but the iPhones should still be selling like, well, iPhones. Most importantly, Apple already has a long streak of topping Wall Street expectations. For both Apple and Amazon, even a modest beat this time could turn a year-over-year decline on the bottom line into a gain. Stay tuned!

Microsoft isn't as shiny as Apple or Amazon. Shareholders have already watched its profitability fade, with the software giant posting quarterly declines in net income in two of the past four quarters. However, those slides are nothing compared to the 17% dip that Wall Street projects for next week's report. Even Microsoft knows something isn't right. It began the quarter by laying off 5,000 employees, the first mass dismissal in the company's celebrated history.

The news isn't much better for Coca-Cola. I'd long thought that cheap soft drink beverages were recession-resistant. Between the company's global presence and steps into vitamin-fortified water, how could profitability possibly shrink at the world's pop star? Sadly, both of the country's leading soft drink companies are slated to post a drop in earnings next week.

Merck and Schering-Plough will be one soon, but it appears that neither pharmaceutical giant will enter the marriage with the upper hand. Both will post lower earnings next week, assuming analysts are reading the right tea leaves. And here I remember when drugmakers were considered all-weather defensive plays.

Finally, Hasbro faces a seasonal lull for toymakers -- but isn't there an adage about children being the last ones to feel the recessionary pinch? Parents will theoretically forgo their own wants to keep their kids happy -- right?     

Shield your eyes, but peek between your fingers
The sheer volume of next week's earnings reports makes the upcoming seven days a must-watch period. Keeping an eye on these companies takes on a new level of urgency now, given the market's healthy rally in recent weeks.

If too many of these darlings break our hearts, they could also break the market's hot streak. Lower year-over-year earnings already imply an expansion of P/E multiples. Things could get ugly if baked-in expectations for mild disappointments become major failures.

However, that inherent pessimism also gives us a reason to be cheerful. The market is already braced for weak performances. It wouldn't surprise me to see either Apple or Amazon -- if not both -- actually top last year's quarterly results. They've got plenty of experience at leaving Wall Street's prognosticators eating dust.

Get some rest over the weekend. Give your nails a couple of days to grow out. You'll be gnawing away at them feverishly next week, and I can't say that I blame you.

Further reads to get you through the weekend:

Apple,, and Hasbro are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Coca-Cola and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value stock picks. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders whether his contrarian heart will ever be happy. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.