Earnings Ready to Rock 'n' Roll

Just take a deep breath. Try not to panic. And for Pete’s sake — relax.

That’s sound advice when a nearsighted, gum-chewing, ADD-plagued 15-year-old is driving the car and it’s going to be good advice this week, when some major league companies kick off earnings season.

If pre-earnings warnings are any indication, this could be a real doozy of a spell. Then again, with traders sending some of the bigger names lower and lower last week, the market may be pricing in its disappointment now.

Earnings Calendar Gathers Steam

Look for biotech giant Biogen, mobile-phoner Motorola, dot-com bellwether Yahoo! and blue-chipper International Paper to release on Tuesday.

Advanced Micro Designs headlines on Wednesday, with General Electric a yet-to-be-official possibility. But the real earnings mother lode comes on Thursday.

We’ll call it day one of Earningspalooza (multiple piercings are optional, tattoos and general gloom about the state of humanity are mandatory). DoubleClick, General Motors, Gateway, Juniper Networks, KLA-Tencor, Office Depot, RSA Security, Unisys and Veritas Software will all release after Thursday’s bell rings to end the trading day.

On the economic news front, the bond market gets a Columbus Day/Yom Kippur breather today, while the stock market continues uninterrupted by the nonmarket holiday. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be business as usual, with chain-store sales, a Treasury auction and initial jobless claims making the rounds.

Look for Friday the 13th to bring more than just dated, cliched references to hockey masks and machetes. The market will get its first peek at September’s retail figures and producer price index. These figures are vital, especially now, when wonks and other future forecasters will be scrutinizing data to see if the economy is in a long-term slowdown or whether this is a temporary downturn.

Future Shock

Some people say if you don’t know your past, then you don’t know your future. Unfortunately, that means revisiting the most recent week, which was not good for Dow components and disastrous for Nasdaq composites. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost about 50 points in the past week of trading, while the Nasdaq Composite Index fell almost 300. Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and J.P. Morgan were notable Dow losers, while Yahoo!, Oracle and Dell rounded out the Nasdaq’s we-got-hit parade.

The year as a whole has been depressing. The Dow’s dropped 800 points, but has recovered some from spring, where it sat below 10,000. The Comp’s been even worse, ending the week at 3361, a level considered a milestone in November 1999. And let’s not even take a look at TheStreet.com’s Internet Sector’s year-long performance. It’s off 550 and change, nearly half its value.

Steven Wieting, a senior economist with Salomon Smith Barney, thinks much of the trouble brewing in September and so far this October is short term and related to temporary cyclical issues, like the September spikes in oil prices and that ever-crumbling euro valuation. Wieting said that oil futures, especially considering the price easing on Thursday, were retreating to a reasonable level.

“Oil prices aren’t going to be the story of 2001,” he said. “This is going to be very short term.”

“People are extremely nervous about some macroeconomic issues, which ultimately should be temporary. And, if you look at the weekly macroeconomic data, there’s no evidence that there’s been a market deterioration. We’re going to get through this.”

Wieting said a quick look at major weekly economic data proves there’s no structural problem with the American economy. That’s to say, there’s no internal problem that the Fed has to fix and investors need to be terrified of. In fact, Wieting said third-quarter earnings would be “impressive,” especially when you consider all those higher fuel costs and the trouble with overseas currency.

Wieting says current growth levels are still quite good and investors will need to be patient as the market works its way through earnings season.

“It’s going to take into next month for us to see a consistent picture of what’s going on,” Wieting said, explaining that investors are currently engaged in risk-averse behaviors, scared about short-term problems and recent market setbacks, which they’re not used to given the last few years of massive gains. “I’m optimistic in that tons of people have called and are really frightened. That type of stuff tells me that the market is stalled by unrealistic problems. This is the kind of stuff they don’t know how to handle.”

Until then, handle with care!