The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was down 73 points as of 1 p.m. EDT Monday on continued concerns over geopolitical tensions in the Crimea and fresh worries over the U.S. fiscal policy outlook.
These macroeconomic concerns overshadowed what is shaping up to be an exciting week for the Dow, highlighted by some major earnings releases and new data on U.S. inflation.
Earnings season shifts into high gear
The earnings week kicks off tonight after the closing bell when Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) reports its second-quarter results. The company had a strong first quarter on the success of several original series. That programming drove a rise in new subscribers.
Analysts expect $1.14 earnings per share from Netflix for the quarter. The company's stock is up 30% over the past three months and 23% year to date.
Earnings season heats up further on Tuesday, with Dow component Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) both reporting. E-commerce giant Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) follows on Thursday.
For Microsoft, the stakes couldn't be higher. The company is trading at a 14-year high and analysts expect $0.60 in earnings per share for the quarter. Last week, new CEO Satya Nadella announced that the company would cut over 18,000 jobs, primarily in the newly acquired Nokia division.
The company estimates severance costs just north of $1 billion over the next year. The market reacted to the news by sending the stock more than 5% higher over the last five days.
Analysts expect Apple to report quarterly earnings of $1.22 per share. Amazon.com is expected to report a quarterly loss of $0.13 per share.
Inflation takes the economic center stage
On Tuesday, the Labor Department is scheduled to release updated inflation numbers for the U.S. economy. As that covers an explicit component of the Federal Reserve's dual mandate, markets will be watching this release closely in hopes of anticipating the central bank's next move.
At the onset of the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing programs, inflation actually moved lower, stoking fears of deflation. The Fed is now ending those programs, and inflation has notably increased over the past few months. The faster inflation rises, the more likely it becomes that the Fed will raise interest rates sooner rather than later.
The Fed's target inflation rate is about 2%. Since the onset of the financial crisis, the inflation rate has struggled to reach that level. With inflation rising unexpectedly quickly so far this year, some Federal Reserve officials are calling for a more aggressive rising rate policy much sooner than previously anticipated. Even Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen has spoken recently that the central bank's low interest rate policy may be creating bubbles in certain asset classes, including equities.
Interest rates will inevitably rise. The question for today is not if, it's when. This week, investors will look at inflation as the most significant indicator of the Fed's next move.
Between earnings releases from a number of household name companies and the inflation data hitting the markets on Tuesday, this week could set the tone for the rest of 2014.