Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is trading slightly higher at midday, posting a 16-point gain as of just after noon EDT as a mixed set of earnings reports kept the Dow from moving more sharply in one direction or the other. Merck (NYSE:MRK) didn't participate in the Dow's gains, joining pharmaceutical peers Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) with slight declines on the day.
Merck will release its third-quarter results before the market opens on Monday. It will follow up its release with a press conference scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. EDT.
Investors expect Merck's earnings to fall from year-ago levels, with more modest declines in revenue than the company has seen in past quarters. With patent protection having expired more than a year ago for its former blockbuster Singulair asthma medicine, Merck's sales slide should moderate in the quarters to come. But in the long run, Merck faces further patent-cliff expirations that could bring similar sales declines if it can't develop new high-sales drugs to replace them.
Merck's results will have implications for the entire Dow, given that both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have huge exposure to the pharmaceutical space. J&J's earnings results were driven higher by pharmaceuticals, with an 11% jump in pharma-segment revenue showing how hard the company has worked to deal with its own patent-cliff issues. By contrast, investors expect Pfizer to have many of the same issues as Merck, although Pfizer earnings are seen posting a slight year-over-year increase despite a big drop in sales.
Watch the dividend
Finally, Merck investors should look for a potential dividend increase. In each of the past two years, Merck has boosted its dividend in the fourth quarter of the calendar year, albeit by just a single penny last year. A failure to do so this year could indicate a lack of confidence in Merck's future, and that could have dire implications throughout the Dow on Monday.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.