Following a week in which U.S. stocks faltered, they're climbing higher on Monday morning, with the benchmark S&P 500 and the narrower Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) up 0.71% and 0.59%, respectively, at 10:10 a.m. EDT. Over 90% of S&P 500 components have already announced their earnings for the first quarter, but investors will begin to see the results of an important group this week -- retailers -- with Macy's reporting on Wednesday and Wal-Mart Stores and J.C. Penney reporting on Thursday. That trio will be followed next week by a slew of retailers, including Best Buy, Home Depot, and Target.
Given the weight of consumer spending in the economy, earnings data from this group will help address the conundrum that Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart highlighted in Dubai over the weekend: "It may not be clear for several months, or even quarters, whether the U.S. economy is undeniably on a stronger and sustained growth path around a run rate of 3%." I agree with Mr. Lockhart and would suggest that this is probably the consensus view with the Federal Open Market Committee (the Fed's rate-setting group).
Nevertheless, the Financial Times reports this morning (subscription required) that "the Federal Reserve is beefing up its tools for implementing interest rate increases." There's nothing wrong with proper preparation; as Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett reminded investors recently, the zero-interest-rate regime, combined with quantitative easing, is a movie "we haven't seen before, and we don't know how it ends yet."
Speaking of Mr. Buffett, the CEO of one of his largest (and most recently established) positions, International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM), spoke to The New York Times in the run-up to the company's annual meeting this Wednesday for an interview that ran over the weekend.
In the interview, IBM chief Ginni Rometty didn't mince words, saying that this is a "rocky time" for the original technology blue-chip, which is scrambling to adapt to shifts in the technology landscape -- namely, the emergence of cloud computing (in which corporate customers run software applications that are hosted by a third party via the Web). Still, she is satisfied that IBM is now set on the right course, asserting, "We are making progress, and we just need to keep moving with speed," all the while cautioning that "[IBM's turnaround] is not a one-year job, not when you're a hundred billion-dollar company."
The article highlights that IBM's latest turnaround is simply the latest episode in an eternal cycle of adaptation, with the company constantly seeking to position itself in the most profitable areas. In fact, one of the things that struck me was the company's focus on profits, even over growth. That ought to be uncontroversial, but the quest for the latter is a quasi-religion among technology executives and investors. As Mrs. Rometty put it: "We don't want empty calories, so when people keep pushing us for growth, that is not the No. 1 priority on my list." While IBM hasn't been a big winner for him -- yet -- I expect that is music to Mr. Buffett's ears.
Alex Dumortier, CFA has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of International Business Machines. 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.