The first trading week of 2011 is off to a somewhat upbeat start, and that was before this morning's welcome news on the hiring front.
The unemployment rate dropping to 9.4% -- the lowest it's been in 19 months -- is yet another indicator of the country's moribund economy clawing its way back.
It's not all perfect, though. We may be several quarters removed from the recession, but not all companies are bouncing back.
Let's go over a few of the companies where analysts see the arrows pointing down on the bottom line next week when they step up with their quarterly results. Some of the names may surprise you.
Latest Quarter EPS (estimated)
Year-Ago Quarter EPS
Helen of Troy
Source: Thomson Reuters.
Clearing the table
There will probably be other companies posting lower earnings next week, but these are just a few of the names that really jump out at me.
Let's start with Apollo Group. The for-profit educator behind the popular University of Phoenix online campus has seen better days. Most of the post-secondary champs with a cyberspace bent fared well during the recession. Enrollments surged as the unemployed and cautiously employed took advantage of e-learning's cost-effective model to beef up their resumes.
The industry lost some of its charm last year, when a government report indicated the dreadful student loan repayment rates. This in of itself doesn't explain why analysts see Apollo posting lower earnings in its most recent quarter -- and for all of fiscal 2011, which ends in August. Rivals American Public Education
Helen of Troy makes beauty care products. From Dr. Scholl's foot spas to Revlon hairbrushes, Helen of Troy leans largely on licensing deals with established brands for its product lines. The shares popped higher last month after acquiring privately held competitor Kaz. It may be the ticket to growth in the future, but the pros see a small dip in profitability when it checks in with its latest quarterly report on Monday.
SUPERVALU runs one of the country's largest supermarket chains, serving a network of nearly 4,300 locations under several monikers. Grocery stores would seem to be an unlikely industry to slip during an economic recovery, even for one that specializes in value-priced wares.
CRA, short for Charles River Associates, is a corporate consultant. This would certainly seem to be a niche that would thrive in an improving climate. Companies appear ready to spend more in a recovery, and hiring consultants to get back on track is a justifiable expense. Unfortunately, analysts see CRA earning just $0.31 a share in its fiscal fourth quarter, just short of the $0.35 a share it posted a year earlier.
Finally, we have H.B. Fuller. The paints and adhesive maker is going through a CEO switch, so investors won't get a fair read on the company's new leadership based on a projected 20% drop in earnings per share for its latest quarter. The real meat in H.B. Fuller's report will be what new CEO Jim Owens envisions for the future.
Bulls may argue that analysts typically underestimate a company's true earnings power, but I should point out that Fuller and SUPERVALU fell short of Wall Street's profit targets during the previous quarter.
Why the long face, short seller?
These reports aren't likely to be pretty, but there's still room for glimmers of optimism within the pessimism.
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. It actually opens the door for unexpected surprises.
The more I think about it, the less worried I become.