What's on the earnings radar?

Here are previews of 4 widely followed companies that are set to issue results later this week.

By Stock Traders Daily Oct 16, 2012 12:27PM

Image, Stock market report copyright Don Carstens, JupiterimagesThird-quarter earnings season is now in full-swing and the pace of corporate reports is steadily ramping up. In fact, this week alone, about one quarter of all S&P 500 companies will be issuing quarterly numbers.


So far, most of the key reports have come from the financial sector and the results have been better than expected. Heading into this earnings season, there was a widespread belief that earnings growth could come in negative this time around, but the financials may prevent that dubious feat from occurring.


Excluding financials, however, this quarter's results will look quite uninspiring. Over the past several weeks, we have seen plenty of companies -- particularly from the technology and transportation industries -- lower their guidance. The question is, will it matter if companies miss their mark? After all, the S&P 500 is still up ~2.5% since early September, even in the face of lowered guidance from bellwethers such as Intel (INTC) and FedEx (FDX).


Following, we provide earnings previews for a few widely followed companies that are set to issue results on Thursday, Oct. 18.


Mr. Softy takes center stage

One of the most highly anticipated reports after the bell on Thursday will be Microsoft Corporation (MSFT). (Microsoft owns and publishes Top Stocks, an MSN Money site.) Its results will give investors a good look into the health of the global enterprise IT market, unlike rival Apple (AAPL), which is much more consumer-centric. For the quarter, analysts are expecting MSFT to report earnings per share (EPS) of $0.60 on revenue of $16.48 billion.


For Microsoft, it's a good-news, bad-news situation. On the positive side, it is currently in its product upgrade cycle, including its Windows 8 launch at the end of October, and the release of its Office 2013 product. However, the company is also facing declining PC sales. Gartner Research recently estimated that PC sales slipped by more than 8% in Q3.


Of course, one of the most frequent knocks against Microsoft is that it has been consistently behind the curve in terms of innovation. Looking ahead, though, it may prove some skeptics wrong when it releases its Surface tablet in Q4. This isn't just a foray into the tablet market either, as it is expecting to produce 3 to 5 million of them.


Gone in a flash

Flash memory manufacturer SanDisk Corporation (SNDK) will be releasing its Q3 results after the market close on Oct. 18. Wall Street is forecasting EPS of $0.34 on revenue of $1.22 billion, equating to whopping year/year declines of 72% and 14%.

As has been widely discussed, semiconductor and memory companies have been under a lot of pressure this year due to the slowdown in the PC supply chain as tablets and other devices continue to take share. What has been working in SNDK's favor, though, is that it has exposure to various mobile devices. This, combined with a reasonable valuation (currently trading with a forward price-to-earnings ratio of ~14x), and persistent takeover rumors, have helped shares of SNDK significantly outperform its group.


Heading into its report, the stock has lost a little steam, but did react well by rebounding off its $42 support level. Upside resistance is in sight, though, residing in the $46.50 to $47 area.


Burrito beat down

It has been a brutal three-month stretch for Mexican quick-serve chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG). The stock has been clobbered with a 30% drop since mid-June. The main culprit, not surprisingly, has been rising food costs. Some may recall that during its last quarterly conference call, it cautioned that the drought was destroying grain crops, which will put increasing pressure on food prices and margins. It also commented that same-store sales growth was showing signs of deceleration. Not a good combination, obviously.


Then, to add insult to injury, David Einhorn recently indicated that CMG was on his short list due to increasing competition from Taco Bell. This move has certainly generated a fair amount of skepticism, and rightfully so, in my opinion, but the point that competition is cutting into Chipotle's comps looks legitimate based on its slowing growth trends.


With all that said, the food chain is looking fairly attractive on a technical basis. Shares have stabilized and held their $290 to $300 support zone. Also, these negative fundamentals are likely already priced into the stock. If the company can top its $2.30 and $702.7 million expectations, the stock could have a nice pop.


UNP delivering the goods

The signs of an economic slowdown have been evident in the lowered guidance and poor results from key transport companies such as Norfolk Southern, JB Hunt, and FedEx. Also, the Association of American Railroads reported mixed, at best, figures for rail data on Oct. 11 stating that U.S. railroads originated 283,000 carloads, down 6.3% year over year. But, don't tell this to Union Pacific Corporation (UNP), as its stock just continues to chug higher.


Before the market opens on Oct. 18, UNP is set to report its Q3 results with Wall Street forecasting EPS of $2.18 on revenue of $5.38 billion. Not surprisingly, EPS estimates have been sliding lower over the past month. Thirty days ago, consensus stood at $2.23.


Working in UNP's favor is its consistent history of topping analysts' expectations. Over the past four quarters, it has topped EPS estimates by an average of $0.13 a share.

Oct 16, 2012 2:21PM
Microsoft's in a perfect position since we all know that PC's are in a slump due to Windiws 7 refresh ending and smart phones and tablets becoming mobile PC's but hold that phone here comes Windows 8 for tablets and Windows Phone 8 for smart phones.  Thursday earnings mean much less than next weeks W8 and WP8 releases and the uptake for the next two quarters. Microsoft could be in the 40s next year at this time.
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