Investors wondering about the strength and earnings power of U.S. businesses in 2003 have some new data to plug into their forecast machines.

First, some good news. The companies in the S&P 500 index that have thus far reported fourth-quarter earnings have shown an average year-over-year profit growth of nearly 10%, and the earnings have been 3.7% higher than expectations, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The biggies reporting this week include Citigroup(NYSE: C), AMZN), and Johnson & Johnson(NYSE: JNJ).

But a Reuters story, concentrating on the future rather than the past, is pessimistic about the forecasts from these and other companies. Microsoft(Nasdaq: MSFT) and IBM(NYSE: IBM), for example, tied their guidance to a "modest recovery in technology spending," yet neither provided strong evidence that might happen.

Two separate Bloomberg stories paint an even gloomier picture. First, declining revenue has caused telecom giants such as AT&T(NYSE: T) and BellSouth(NYSE: BLS) to cut their fourth-quarter capital spending to the lowest levels in six years. Those cuts obviously affect suppliers such as Lucent(NYSE: LU) and Nortel(NYSE: NT).

Second, there seems to be little chance that business software sales will pick up in 2003, affecting companies such as Oracle(Nasdaq: ORCL), Siebel(Nasdaq: SEBL), SAP(NYSE: SAP), and PeopleSoft(Nasdaq: PSFT). Most of their customers seem to be in the same boat as Cypress Semiconductor(NYSE: CY). "We're going to hold the line on our spending levels," says Director of Applications Russell Dewey, "and try to recover investments we've made."

Unlike vague references to consumer sentiment and a possible war in Iraq, it helps to pay attention to such industry-specific data... especially if you're invested in businesses that supply the companies involved.