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Earnings season has peaked. To be sure, a few major companies report key earnings next week. But we’ve already seen fourth-quarter earnings reports from most of the biggest and most important stocks in the market.
It has been a strong season. Per Factset data, as of last week over 70% of S&P 500 companies posted earnings that came in ahead of analyst estimates and 62% beat consensus expectations on revenue.
Those strong results have boosted U.S. stocks. The S&P 500 trades at a 10-week high, and has gained 15% so far this year. But trading could get bumpier in the coming weeks.
Retail sales disappointed, leading markets down on Thursday. With fiscal Q4 numbers from most retailers on the way, investors will be paying close attention to commentary in that sector.
That includes an earnings report next week from the world’s largest retailer. It’s one of several that will address key questions facing the market right now. Is retail healthier than this week’s report suggests? Will the rebound in Chinese stocks continue? And what kind of tolerance do investors have for risk in this market? Next week, including these three important earnings reports to watch, should give some much-needed clarity.
Earnings Report Date: Tuesday, Feb. 19, before market open
Particularly after Thursday’s report, fiscal Q4 earnings from Walmart (NYSE:WMT) could move the market. As the biggest retailer in the U.S. — and the world — Walmart will give retail investors the first look at consumer confidence over the important holiday season.
Earnings next week are key for WMT stock itself as well. WMT has seen whipsaw trading in recent months as investors gauge the health of its omnichannel efforts. The Q4 earnings report should show not only whether Walmart’s demand trends are heading in the right direction, but if its infrastructure was able to handle the holiday crush, allowing Walmart to back off its spending.
But it’s not only Walmart shareholders who will be watching the report closely. Walmart clearly is trying to fend off Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), and strong numbers Tuesday could impact that high-flying (and dearly valued) stock. Target (NYSE:TGT) is making its own improvements, and trying to position itself as the best large-cap retail stock to buy.
Indeed, all investors need to keep a close eye on this report. Good numbers from Walmart should help the sector and tell the market that the weak retail sales report can be safely ignored. Disappointing sales from this retail giant, however, could lead to market-wide concerns that consumer confidence is fading. That new narrative could be enough to knock the market as a whole off recent highs, particularly with a slew of retail reports on the way over the next few weeks.
Bausch Health (BHC)
Earnings Report Date: Wednesday, Feb. 20, before market open
Bausch Health (NYSE:BHC), formerly known as Valeant Pharmaceuticals, almost seems forgotten these days. What was a battleground stock in 2016-2017 now is just another drug manufacturer trying to navigate a tough industry with a challenged balance sheet.
Indeed, 30-day average daily volume in BHC has dropped from over 30 million at 2016 peaks to barely 4 million — its lowest levels in over three years. But Bausch Health will regain the spotlight on Wednesday. And its earnings represent an interesting test case for the pharmaceutical sector.
After all, drug stocks typically haven’t performed that well in recent years. The sector saw more volatility earlier this month after the federal government proposed ending rebates to PBMs (pharmacy benefit managers).
Bausch should be the first major manufacturer to speak to the import and impact of those potential rules. And the reaction to its earnings could signal investor attitudes toward the sector — and toward high-debt stocks in general. In the low interest rate environment of the past few years, many companies took on heavy leverage.
If investors are willing to look past Bausch’s balance sheet, they may be similarly forgiving elsewhere. But if the reaction to Bausch earnings next week is negative, that could be a sign that the market is again looking to get away from risk and that worries about higher interest rates could again pressure U.S. stocks.
Earnings Report Date: Thursday, Feb. 21, after market close
But of all the earnings reports on the earnings calendar next week, none will better highlight investors’ risk appetite than Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU). Chinese stocks were absolutely hammered in 2018 — but they’ve rallied in 2019. Of 39 U.S.-listed Chinese stocks with a market capitalization over $2 billion, all 39 are positive this year. BIDU stock actually has lagged the group, gaining “just” 10%.
That sets up a key earnings report from Baidu on Thursday. Will investors react to good numbers and send BIDU higher? Or are the trade war and macro fears that plagued Chinese stocks last year set to return? iQiyi (NASDAQ:IQ), in which Baidu still owns a substantial stake, also reports on Thursday afternoon, and should provide another test for the market.
If BIDU and IQ can rally in Friday trading, the rebound in Chinese stocks should continue. If they disappoint — or worse, if investors sell the news — then the group simply may have had a “dead cat bounce,” with Thursday’s reports sparking a return to the lows.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.
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