As Earnings Season Heats Up, U.S. Banks Will Make or Break the Stock-Market Rally

By William Patalon III
Executive Editor
Money Morning/The Money Map Report

Corporate earnings will take center stage again this week as certain financials hope to follow last week’s upbeat announcement by banking giant Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) with some decent earnings reports of their own. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) reports tomorrow (Tuesday), while JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) reports Thursday, and Citigroup Inc (C) reports on Friday.

While the chief executives of several of the largest U.S. banks were quick to announce favorable showings for the first two months of the year, analysts are concerned that the strong showings may not have carried over into March, and that the performances of some of these money-centered banks may disappoint.

Contradictions hit the financials last week as diverse reports about Morgan Stanley (MS) and Wells Fargo brought even more confusion to a sector that cannot seem to stay out of the daily headlines. On one hand, analysts expect Morgan Stanley to write down an additional $1.2 billion worth of bonds; subsequently, the firm may suffer its second straight quarterly loss.

On the other hand, Wells Fargo expects earnings to far surpass Wall Street’s projections as its Wachovia Corp. acquisition has enhanced its mortgage-lending capabilities at a time when rates are at historic lows and when the U.S. housing market is showing some signs – be they ever so slight – of rebounding [Indeed, a Money Morning report from just last week made this same point].

Bear in mind that since the financials have led the charge in equities during the past five weeks, investors may be looking for any excuse to take some recent profits.  Intel Corp. (INTC), which reports tomorrow, Google Inc (GOOG), which reports Thursday and General Electric Corp. (GE), which reports Friday, figure to be crucial announcements.

The March inflation gauges highlight the economic calendar, and economists hope that price pressures remain far off of their radar screens.  The retail sales data should lend a bit more insight into the current plight of the consumer.

Market Matters

Alcoa Corp. (AA) kicked off earnings season with more of whimper than a bang.  While the aluminum producing giant lost about $500 million during the quarter, the company expects to benefit from the infrastructure programs promoted in the economic stimulus package – key areas that could enhance demand for its products.  Bed Bath and Beyond Inc. (BBBY) reported better-than-expected quarterly results and even received a favorable analyst upgrade. 

With the season set to kick off in a big way in the weeks to come, Thomson Reuters has called for a 37% drop in profits at Standard & Poor’s 500 Index companies, the eighth consecutive quarterly decline (though that prediction came before the Wells announcement). 

Market/ Index

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Qtr Close (03/31/09)

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Economically Speaking

A light week on the calendar still provided plenty of headlines on the economic home front last week.  Corporate executives painted a rather bleak picture of the short-term future for U.S. industry as the Business Roundtable issued a quarterly outlook that turned negative for the first time in its survey’s history.  The majority of those participating expect their companies to experience layoffs and reductions in business spending during the coming six months.

However, Roundtable Chairman Harold McGraw III, who is also the CEO of The McGraw-Hill Cos. Inc. (MHP), expressed confidence in the Obama administration’s ability to generate renewed business activity. McGraw said he also believes the economy may be close to a bottom.

On the other hand, minutes from the latest U.S. Federal Open Market Committee policymaking meeting that U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and friends revised their expectations (to the downside) for the economic recovery. While they anticipate that gross domestic product (GDP) will flatten (from its current contraction state) by the end of the year, unemployment is expected to continue its downward spiral well into 2010.

Though initial claims for unemployment benefits surprisingly fell last week, they remain at very high levels, and total claims (those looking for jobs over extended periods) jumped to a record high. While the trade deficit narrowed to its lowest level since November 1999, the improvement is more indicative of the sluggish economy and the reduced global demand for any and all goods and services. 

Retailers posted their results of March sales and the numbers were mixed at best.  While Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT) had long been the one “steady Eddie” during this economic downturn, the world’s largest retailer reported March sales that missed expectations (though the company does expect its quarterly results to be strong, thanks to a stellar February).  Stores that target teens like Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (ANF), Aeropostale Inc. (ARO) and American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) each posted disappointing numbers, though analysts point out that Easter (and many spring breaks) fall later in the 2009 calendar (April 12 this year versus March 23 a year ago) and most holiday shoppers are waiting until the last minute these days.

Still, more than 50% of those retailers reporting beat Wall Street expectations, and some even issued favorable guidance for the quarter as a whole.  Of note, The TJX Cos. Inc. (TJX) (TJ Maxx and Marshalls) and Penney Co. Inc. (JCP) both posted better-than-expected sales results and increased their outlooks for the three-month period.

Weekly Economic Calendar




April 7

Consumer Credit (02/09)

Declined in February, though January upward revision

April 9

Initial Jobless Claims (04/06/09)

Unexpected decline, though still at high levels


Balance of Trade (02/09)

Lowest deficit in over 9 years

April 10

Good Friday

Markets Closed

The Week Ahead



April 14

PPI (03/09)



Retail Sales (03/09)


April 15

CPI (03/09)



Industrial Production (03/09)



Fed Beige Book


April 16

Initial Jobless Claims (04/13/09)



Housing Starts (03/09)


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About the Author

Before he moved into the investment-research business in 2005, William (Bill) Patalon III spent 22 years as an award-winning financial reporter, columnist, and editor. Today he is the Executive Editor and Senior Research Analyst for Money Morning at Money Map Press.

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