'Tis the season to report earnings. This time, investors come into the reporting period with rising spirits.

For evidence, look no further than aluminum producer Alcoa (NYSE:AA). The industrial stalwart tends to report very early in every earnings season, including this one. And speculators are crowding the doors: Alcoa was the biggest winner on the Dow (DJINDICES:^DJI) in early trade with a 0.7% gain, despite the lack of company-specific news other than Tuesday night's upcoming third-quarter report.

Analysts put Alcoa's bar low this time, expecting last year's $0.15 of earnings per share to fall almost all the way to breakeven. Sales should be down 13% year over year. You'd expect the stock to absolutely tank on an outlook like that, but now the stock sits near breakeven for the day. Investors believe in economic recovery this time.

The story will continue to play out over the next month or so. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) is the second Dow member to report this week, though we have to wait until Friday for that one. Then we get a reporting avalanche next week, including no fewer than 11 Dow components.

Whether you're looking to confirm or contradict whatever economic outlook Alcoa and JPMorgan give us this week, I'd keep an eye on fellow economic barometers Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and McDonald's (NYSE:MCD).

Together, these four reports cover the market from its financial base to the consumer-level pinnacle. They will set the tone for the entire season.

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