Is the economy still on the road to recovery or did it miss a pivotal turn a few intersections back?
Several market bellwethers have come through with better-than-expected results in recent weeks, but it's not all good news. GDP came in below expectations, making some think a double-dip may be back in the works.
There are still plenty of companies posting lower earnings than they did a year ago. Let's go over a few of the names that are expected to go the wrong way on the bottom line next week.
Latest Quarter EPS (Estimated)
Year-Ago Quarter EPS
Source: Thomson Reuters.
Clearing the table
There will likely be more companies posting lower earnings next week, but these are just a few of the names that really jump out at me.
American Tower operates towers used by radio stations and wireless companies to broaden their coverage. You don't expect terrestrial radio to be a growth industry, but doesn't this sound like a growth industry when it comes to cellular companies? When a carrier attacks a rival's coverage map in a marketing campaign, shouldn't that be sweet music for American Tower? Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that way on the bottom line this time around.
Trex already hit the deck two weeks ago, alerting investors that it would woefully miss the market's original estimates. It's a lousy time for the leading maker of wood-alternative decking to pull up lame. Springtime and early summer are when homeowners do outdoor deck projects. Unfortunately, the soft economy and the iffy ownership scenario for leveraged homeowners are a one-two punch when it comes to home improvement projects.
Office Max isn't the darling of office supplies, but the superstore chain is still a decent bellwether for corporate America. What Office Max's projected financials are saying isn't pretty, since we're looking at a sharp drop in profitability on flat sales.
Activision Blizzard is the country's largest video game operator, even though the $20 billion proposed valuation floating around for Zynga would take the crown when it comes to market cap. Is FarmVille really bigger than World of Warcraft? Can Empire & Allies really defeat Call of Duty?
Activision Blizzard isn't perfect. It did have to kiss its once-gigantic Guitar Hero franchise goodbye. There was a time when gaming software seemed like a recession-proof industry, catering to the homebound and entertainment-starved. Now it's battling social gaming and dirt cheap apps for the attention of casual gamers, as diehard gamers shake their heads.
Garmin isn't a surprise to find on this list. Who is buying dedicated GPS gadgetry these days? Smartphones and smarter cars make it easier to get around without turn-by-turn prompts.
Dean Foods used to be a cash cow in the dairy space. Between milk, creamers, and even organic soy-based milks, Dean Foods seems to be an all-weather performer. Unfortunately, growth isn't a word that investors are likely to "udder" when the dairy giant reports on Thursday morning.
Finally, we have Southwest. The low-cost carrier once stood out from money-losing legacy carriers with its resilient performance. Southwest will thankfully still be profitable come Thursday, but apparently it wasn't able to raise fares quickly enough to offset the rise in jet fuel.
Why the long face, short-seller?
These seven companies have seen better days. The market has rewarded many of these stocks with reasonable gains over the past year, but they still haven't earned those upticks.
The good news here is that Wall Street already expects these companies to deliver shrinking bottom lines. In other words, the bad news is already baked into the shares.
The more I think about it, the less worried I become.