The Dow had a big earnings week last week, with six members of the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) giving their latest reports on their quarterly results. This week, earnings season hits full stride, with eight Dow stocks releasing their latest results during the holiday-shortened week. Let's take a brief look at all eight and what investors expect from them.
Tomorrow, four Dow components report, with Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Verizon, and Travelers making their announcements before the bell and IBM (NYSE:IBM) waiting until after the market close to make its report. Of the four, Johnson & Johnson and IBM will be the more crucial, as Verizon and Travelers are both seen reporting very strong growth in earnings due to favorable trends helping both of their respective industries. By contrast, J&J needs its pharmaceutical division to keep producing the increases in sales and net income that have driven the entire company forward, especially as it makes strategic moves to rid itself of non-core businesses and make its operating structure leaner. At the same time, though, J&J must also recognize the value of its consumer-products and medical-device businesses, which give it a valuable edge in diversification over its more focused pharmaceutical peers.
Meanwhile, investors expect IBM to present the same conundrum it has suffered for several quarters, as earnings could continue to increase despite a troubling drop in revenue. Even though IBM correctly saw the decline of the hardware business, it still hasn't avoided the drop in demand for servers and other systems and technology in light of the sharp move toward cloud computing. IBM needs to give investors a viable strategy for moving forward in order to reassure them of the stock's potential to post gains in 2014.
United Technologies is slated to report on Wednesday morning, and investors expect huge gains in earnings based on the success of its greater emphasis in the aerospace industry. United Tech's acquisition of Goodrich has continued to pay dividends for the company, but the conglomerate has also relied on strength from non-aerospace divisions like its Carrier HVAC and Otis elevator businesses. As long as order activity for aircraft in which United Technologies has a key role in production stays strong, the stock should continue to do well.
McDonald's and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) report their earnings on Thursday, with McDonald's taking the morning shift and Microsoft releasing its quarterly results after the bell. Investors are hoping for continued slow growth from McDonald's, as the fast-food giant continues to struggle from sluggish sales and heightened competition from its traditional peers as well as premium fast-casual competitors. But Microsoft has greater capacity to move the Dow, as investors nervously await the announcement of a successor to take over exiting CEO Steve Ballmer's role atop the tech giant. Investors also expect weaker earnings despite revenue growth at Microsoft, and they'll want to see how well the release of the Xbox One did at driving holiday sales and potentially giving the company a positive catalyst for growth in the small but key video-gaming segment.
Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) finishes the week with its pre-open earnings release, and the consumer giant is also expected to see weakness in earnings on only the smallest of revenue increases. Like many Dow components, P&G gets a substantial amount of its business from overseas markets, and the strength in the U.S. dollar and relative weakness in many emerging-market economies could continue to weigh on the company's earnings prospects in 2014. The key question, though, is whether P&G can step up its game to compete better against its rivals, many of which have found better ways to expand their businesses internationally to take advantage of opportunities there.
This week could be crucial for the Dow's direction in early 2014, as earnings start to drive more of the market's overall trends. Watch these eight companies to see how they perform and whether they satisfy investors with their earnings results.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, and Procter & Gamble. The Motley Fool owns shares of IBM, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, and Microsoft. 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.