Wall Street: Plan for a storm

A six-week advance meets the first big week of corporate results, with 140 major companies due to open their books.

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By Alexandra Twin, CNNMoney.com senior writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- As the profit reporting period moves into its busiest two weeks, investors have reason to be a bit more optimistic.

The S&P 500 rose 28.5% in a six-weeks-and-counting advance, after a selloff that left the broad index at a 12-1/2 year low. Bets that the economy and financial sector are close to stabilizing helped fuel the run, enabling investors to shed some of their worst-case scenarios.

"During the previous three months I was getting panicked calls from investors about the end of the world," said Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group. "Now those same people are saying 'we need to get in now before we miss it.'"

Supporting the optimism over the last week has been a rash of not-as-bad-as-expected quarterly results from bellwether companies.

First-quarter so far: With roughly 10% of the S&P 500 having reported results so far, profits are on track to have shrunk 37.4% from a year ago, according to the latest from Thomson Reuters.

The S&P 500 is on track to post its seventh consecutive quarter of shrinking profits, the longest stretch since Thomson began tracking results in 1998.

Although it's too early to discern the broad trend, "so far we're seeing some bright spots in the financials, relative to expectations," said John Butters, senior research analyst at Thomson Reuters.

Last week, JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) and Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) all reported results that fell from a year ago but topped estimates. Earlier in the month, Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) forecast a bigger-than-expected quarterly profit.

Nonetheless, financial sector earnings are still expected to post declines this quarter, Butters said, with current forecasts for a drop of 37%.

All ten economic sectors tracked by Thomson are expected to post declines this quarter. That list is led by the consumer discretionary sector, which is expected to see profits drop by 113% from a year ago.

The least-bad sector is healthcare, which is expected to post a 2% drop in profits versus a year ago.

Big companies due to report results this week include Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), American Express (AXP, Fortune 500), Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500), IBM (IBM, Fortune 500) and Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500).

Results

Around 140 companies, or 28% of the S&P 500 report results this week. Here are some of the highlights.

Monday: Bank of America reports quarterly results before the start of trading. The Dow component is expected to have earned 5 cents per share versus 23 cents a year ago.

After the close of trade, IBM is expected to report earnings of $1.66 per share, versus $1.65 a year ago.

Other companies due to report Monday include Eli Lilly (LLY, Fortune 500), Halliburton (HAL, Fortune 500) and Texas Instruments (TXN, Fortune 500).

Tuesday: Dow components Caterpillar (CAT, Fortune 500), Coca-Cola (KO, Fortune 500), Merck (MRK, Fortune 500) and United Technologies (UTX, Fortune 500) are all expected to report results before the start of trading. All are expected to report lower quarterly earnings versus a year ago.

After the close, Yahoo is expected to report earnings of 8 cents per share versus 11 cents a year ago.

Other companies due to report Tuesday include Delta Air Lines (DAL, Fortune 500), Lockheed Martin (LMT, Fortune 500), Schering-Plough (SGP, Fortune 500) and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD, Fortune 500).

Wednesday: Wells Fargo is expected to report results before the start of trading. The company forecast a week ago that it will see a profit of around $3 billion. Analysts expect earnings of 41 cents per share versus 60 cents a year ago.

Financial firm Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) is expected to report results before the start of trading. The company is expected to report a loss of 9 cents per share versus a profit of $1.45 a year ago.

Also in the morning, Dow components AT&T (T, Fortune 500), Boeing (BA, Fortune 500) and McDonald's (MCD, Fortune 500) are due to report results.

Apple releases results after the close of trading. Apple is expected to have earned $1.09 versus $1.16 a year ago.

Thursday: Microsoft reports results after the close. The software leader is expected to report a profit of 39 cents per share versus 47 cents a year ago.

Also after the close, Amazon.com (AMZN, Fortune 500) is expected to report earnings of 31 cents per share versus 34 cents a year ago.

UPS (UPS, Fortune 500), PepsiCo (PEP, Fortune 500), Raytheon (RTN, Fortune 500) and Amgen (AMGN, Fortune 500) are among the other companies due to report results Thursday.

Friday: Dow component 3M (MMM, Fortune 500) is due to report results before the start of trade. 3M is expected to have earned 86 cents versus $1.38 a year ago.

Honeywell (HON, Fortune 500), Schlumberger (SLB) and Xerox (XRX, Fortune 500) are among the other companies due to report quarterly results in the morning.

Economy

In a light week for economic news, standouts include the index of leading economic indicators and reports on new and existing home sales. All forecasts represent a consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com.

Monday: The March index of leading economic indicators (LEI) is due shortly after the start of trading. LEI, released by the Conference Board, is expected to have fallen 0.2% in the month after falling 0.4% in the previous month.

Tuesday: A House of Representative subcommittee holds a hearing on Treasury's plan for toxic assets.

Thursday: The number of Americans filing new weekly unemployment claims is expected to have risen to 630,000 from 610,000 the previous week. The Labor Department report is due before the start of trading. Investors will also focus on continuing claims - a measure of people receiving benefits for a week or more. Last week, continuing claims surged to a record 6.02 million.

Shortly after the market open, the National Association of Realtors releases the March existing home sales report. The February report showed a surprise rise and investors will be looking to see if the trend continues. Sales are expected to fall to a 4.65 million unit annual rate from a 4.72 million unit annual rate in the previous month.

Friday: The Commerce Department releases the March durable goods orders report before the start of trading. Orders are expected to have fallen 1.5% after falling 5.1% in the previous month.

The Census Bureau releases the March new home sales report shortly after the market open. Sales are expected to have rise to a 340,000 annual unit rate in the month from a 337,000 unit annual rate in the previous month. The February figure rose unexpectedly from the previous month. To top of page

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