Here come the profit reports

chart_lookahead_040910.top.gifBy Alexandra Twin, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Investors return to work this week with the Dow just short of 11,000, the Nasdaq nearing a two-year high and the first-quarter reporting period set to take off.

The blue-chip Dow crossed the 11,000 mark just before the close Friday, but ended short of that to finish at a new 18-month high. The S&P 500 also carved out another 18-month high. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq stands at its highest point since June of 2008.

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But that leg of the rally occurred in a quiet week when few economic reports were released, Congress was on break and the quarterly reporting period hadn't yet begun. This week ushers in a decidedly busier period.

"Dow 11,000 is a nice headline, but the Dow is not the economy," said Brian Battle, vice president at Performance Trust Capital Partners. He said that continued momentum from the recent rally should carry over in the week ahead, with stocks continuing to rise after the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite have all climbed in seven of the last eight weeks.

"We've had a Rodney Dangerfield stock market rally, where we get no respect because no one believes it can keep going," Battle said. "Earnings season starts next week and that's going to be key."

Reports on tap: Quarterly profit reports will start pouring in this week, and results are expected to be very strong. Cost-cutting and easy comparisons to an abysmal first quarter of 2009 are expected to boost results, but investors will also be watching to see if revenues are growing. What companies say about the rest of the year will be critical too, particularly with stock indexes at multi-month highs.

"I think the optimism that has lifted markets lately will carry through as the earnings start to come out, but the guidance is going to have to be a lot stronger than in recent quarters," said Peter Tuz, president at Chase Investment Counsel.

He said that between fall 2008 and the end of 2009, companies were very cautious about profits because of the weak economy. But that won't be enough for stock investors anymore.

"We've seen good earnings on cost-cutting and tepid revenue for a few quarters now," Tuz said. "But now we're at a point where we need to see profits driven by economic growth."

Earnings are currently expected to have risen almost 37% versus the first quarter of 2009, according to Thomson Reuters, while revenues are expected to have risen 10%.

Alcoa (AA, Fortune 500) begins the quarterly reporting period, as is traditional, when it reports results after the start of trading Monday. Alcoa is one of five Dow components due to report results this week. The others are Intel (INTC, Fortune 500), JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) and General Electric (GE, Fortune 500). Tech leader Google is also due to report.

Greece: U.S. investors will also be attuned to developments coming out of Europe, amid speculation that debt-laden Greece could receive a bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shortly.

On Sunday, finance ministers from the euro zone pledged to offer up to €30 billion ($40 billion) in loans to Greece at below-market interest rates if Greece were to ask for a bailout.

Greece's finance minister has not requested a rescue but worries that Greece may default on its mounting debt, destabilizing the euro and sparking a bigger debt crisis amid other vulnerable European nations, have weighed on markets intermittently all year.

The fears were exacerbated last Thursday after Greek borrowing costs spiked to an all-time high, but the latest show of commitment to Greece by the nations that use the euro could help ease concerns.

The analysts both said that the threat of a Greek default has been in the market for a while and has therefore already been priced in to stock valuations, to an extent.

Quarterly results

Monday: Aluminum producer Alcoa is expected to have earned 11 cents per share, according to a consensus of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters. Alcoa reported a loss of 59 cents per share a year ago.

Tuesday: Chip leader Intel reports results after the close. The Dow component is expected to have earned 38 cents per share after earning 11 cents per share a year ago.

Wednesday: JPMorgan Chase, which reports results before the bell, is expected to have earned 64 cents per share versus 40 cents a year ago. JPMorgan is the first of a slew of banks that are expected to report strong profits this week.

Thursday: Tech behemoth Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) reports results after the close. The company is expected to have earned $6.57 per share versus $5.16 per share a year ago.

Friday: Bank of America is expected to report a profit of 9 cents per share in the morning, down from 44 cents per share a year ago.

General Electric is forecast to report a profit of 16 cents per share, down from 26 cents a year ago.

On the docket

Monday: The March Treasury budget, due in the afternoon, is expected to show a surplus of $67.5 billion, versus a deficit of $191.6 billion in February, according to a consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com.

Tuesday: The February Trade Balance, due in the morning from the Commerce Department, is expected to have widened to $39 billion from $37.3 billion in January.

Import and export prices are also due in the morning.

Wednesday: The March retail sales report from the Commerce Department leads a busy day for economic news. Sales are expected to have risen 1.1% after growing 0.3% in February. Sales excluding autos are expected to have risen 0.5% after rising 0.8% in February.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of consumer inflation, is expected to have risen 0.1% in March versus a flat reading in February. Core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, is expected to have risen 0.1% after moving up 0.1% in February.

The government also releases the weekly crude oil inventories report and February business inventories report in the morning. The Fed's periodic "beige book" reading on the economy is due in the afternoon.

Thursday: The weekly jobless claims report from the Department of Labor is the highlight of another busy day for news.

Approximately 440,000 Americans are expected to have filed new claims for unemployment last week versus 460,000 in the previous week. Continuing claims, a measure of those who have been receiving benefits for a year or more, are expected to have risen to 4,600,000 from 4,550,000 in the previous week.

Friday: Housing starts and building permits are due out in the morning from the Census Bureau and are likely to move markets. Starts are expected to have risen to a 610,000 unit annual rate in March from a 575,000 unit annual rate. Building permits, a measure of builder confidence, are expected to have fallen to an annualized rate of 626,000 units from a 637,000 rate of units in the previous month.

The April Consumer Sentiment index from the University of Michigan is due after the start of trading. Sentiment is expected to have improved to a reading of 75.0 from 73.6 in March. To top of page

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