We're waist deep in earnings season, so one doesn't have to go far to find winners and losers. On any given day, dozens -- and at its peak, hundreds -- of companies discuss their most recent financials.
Is that why I wasn't overly worried heading in the weekend, when I brought up several companies projected to post lower quarterly earnings this week than they did a year ago? Probably. As bad as things may seem, far more companies will improve their bottom lines this week.
Let's go over seven publicly traded companies that are expected to stand tall this week by posting year-over-year improvement on the bottom line.
Latest Quarter's EPS (Estimated)
Year-Ago Quarter's EPS
Source: Thomson Reuters.
Clearing the table
Let's start at the top with Ford. The steadiest driver among the stateside automakers is on track to post its fifth consecutive quarterly profit. While the recession was ugly for the maker of big-ticket cars and trucks, whining about that now is like locking the barn door after the Mustang has sped away. The "cash for clunkers" campaign led to a dramatic turnaround last year. The good news is that this summer was probably even better.
Veeco Instruments lights the candle at both ends these days. Consolidation in the data storage realm makes Veeco prime buyout bait. It's also riding the coattails of increasing demand for LED lighting equipment. Veeco's projected results tell the whole story: Analysts see revenue surging 178% in its latest quarter, with profitability growing even faster.
Credit card giant Visa may very well have some plastic in your pocket. Some folks wrongly assume that Visa bears the risks of actually issuing cards and dealing with deadbeat swipers. Instead, the banks that issue its cards assume the burden of any financial woe cardholders might inflict. Visa just markets the plastic and collects its piece of the action from participating merchants and banks.
This doesn't mean that Visa is an all-weather wager. If banks get stingier about issuing plastic, or consumers get more cautious about charging their purchases, Visa would feel some of the pain. Fortunately for shareholders, the pros don't see that as a problem right now.
First Solar is obviously a play on renewable energy. Solar stocks have been volatile for years. The leading thin film player usually goes along for the ride, but it also makes its own luck. It wouldn't be on this list if it weren't growing on the bottom line, and First Solar's been landing a few major contracts lately -- brightening its near-term prospects, too.
IMAX is proving that there's life after Avatar. James Cameron's big blue blockbuster may have proved the merits of 3-D on IMAX's gargantuan screens, but audiences keep coming even for non-Na'vi-related entertainment. Wall Street sees a fivefold improvement in third-quarter earnings. The fourth quarter will likely be more insightful -- pitted against last year's debut of Avatar -- but estimates also call for sharp earnings growth for that period as well.
Microsoft is the world's largest software company. Its stock has languished over the past decade, with a fair share of critics lamenting its future. I'll admit that I'm in the bearish camp, even though Microsoft announced last week that it has sold a whopping 240 million Windows 7 licenses since the operating system's debut a year ago. Thursday's quarterly report should further confirm that Microsoft is alive and kicking.
Finally, we hit the pump to check out ExxonMobil. A few years ago, Microsoft commanded the largest market cap among stateside listings. ExxonMobil has worn that oily crown for a while now. Steve Jobs may be gaining on the oil behemoth in the race for market-cap supremacy, but Apple still has a lot of distance to make up. With healthy prices at the pump and ExxonMobil's massive operations humming along, the next year or two should make for an interesting race between the two stock titans.
Cross those fingers, but know the fundamentals
Investors in these seven stocks have a right to be excited. They are all improving their financial situations. They are worthy of the gains that the market rally has bestowed upon them over the past year.
I wouldn't be uncomfortable owning any of these companies. They're doing the right thing, regardless of Mr. Market's mood swings.
The expectations may be high, but these seven stocks wouldn't have it any other way.
Are you a buyer or a seller of stocks these days? Share your strategy in the comment box below.