Wintry blasts aren't the only things to fear these days. Now that last year's monstrous rally has settled down, investors are actually starting to read the labels before they ingest their stock purchases.

This isn't a problem for companies that have bounced back from the recession, but there are plenty more businesses still headed the wrong way on the bottom line.

Let's go over a few of the blue chips and seemingly recession-proof companies whose analysts foresee smaller earnings next week. Some of the names may surprise you:


Latest Quarter EPS (Estimated)

Year-Ago Quarter EPS

Merck (NYSE:MRK)



Qwest Communications (NYSE:Q)



Waste Management (NYSE:WM)



Advance Auto Parts (NYSE:AAP)



Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK)






First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR)



Source: Yahoo! Finance.

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

Let's start with Merck. The pharmaceuticals giant has spent the past few years battling Vioxx lawsuits. Unfortunately, Merck has also been slugging it out on the bottom line. If Merck falls short of matching the $0.87-a-share profit it posted during the previous year's fourth quarter, it will have posted year-over-year net income declines in three of last four quarters. A fat 4.1% dividend can only take you so far if your fundamentals are shrinking.

Payout chasers attracted to Merck may also be warming up to Qwest Communications. The telco bellwether is a beacon with its 7.2% yield. However, it's hard to get excited about the long-term prospects of providing local, long distance, and broadband connectivity.

Waste Management is a leading trash hauler. Viewers who forgot to turn off their televisions after Sunday night's Super Bowl may have caught the company's CEO plucking trash from landfills and cleaning out portable toilets in the debut of Undercover Boss. Garbage collection is an all-weather industry, but Waste Management is projected to post flattish results next Tuesday.

Advance Auto Parts should be a surprising name to see on this list. During the recession, auto-parts retailers thrived. Instead of buying new cars, drivers were holding on to their set of wheels a bit longer. Older cars need more maintenance, and Advance and its peers cashed in. However, now that new car sales have been bouncing back since last summer's "cash for clunkers" campaign, Advance's numbers may need a tuneup.

Chesapeake Energy is a popular oil and gas exploration company around Fooldom. Beyond newsletter recommendations, the Fool community is fond enough of Chesapeake to tag it with the maximum five-star rating on Motley Fool CAPS. The country's second-largest producer of natural gas is positioned to disappoint many of its fans if its quarterly profit slips as expected.

The Hurt Locker's Academy Award nomination may draw attention to high-tech bomb detection and detonation equipment, but it doesn't appear to be helping iRobot. The company makes unmanned Packbots, which are essential in smoking out roadside bombs in the Middle East. If things get gritty closer to home, iRobot also makes the popular Roomba vacuum-cleaning automatons.

Despite the story-stock allure of its gee-whiz gadgetry, iRobot has served up a profit in just four of the past 12 quarters. The good news is that the pros see a profitable quarter next week. The bad news, naturally, is that the company will likely earn less than it did a year ago.

Finally, we have First Solar. The maker of solar modules that help milk energy from sunlight has been as volatile as its solar energy peers. The feasibility of the source fluctuates politically, and in response to energy commodity swings, but at least First Solar is squarely profitable.   

Why the long face, short seller?
These reports aren't likely to be pretty. Many of these stocks are in seemingly healthy sectors, to boot. A trash collector generating garbage growth on the bottom line? An auto parts chain that is leaving its recent growth spurts propped up by concrete blocks? This isn't going to be a pretty quarter, no matter how clean your living room is after some iRobot Roomba scooting.

There is a silver lining, though. Investors are already braced for the worst with these reports. If there is an upside to this grim list, it's that lower profitability is already baked into next week's reports. The low expectations actually open the door for unexpected surprises.

The more I think about it, the less worried I become.

Chesapeake Energy and Waste Management are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. First Solar and iRobot are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks. Waste Management is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of Chesapeake Energy. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services, 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.