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Friday, January 20, 2012

With the economic calendar relatively on the thin side, stocks will remain focused on another busy day of earnings reports. Google’s earnings miss potentially raises doubts about the tech sector’s earnings outlook, but the issue appears to be mostly company specific. Reports from Intel (INTC - Analyst Report), Microsoft (MSFT - Analyst Report) and IBM (IBM - Analyst Report) show continued resilience on the corporate IT spending front. But with stocks at a six-month high already, it will likely be difficult today to sustain the upward drift of recent days.

While earnings reports from the tech giants after the close on Thursday will likely remain in the spotlight today, a major earnings report from this morning is from General Electric (GE - Analyst Report), a bellwether for the global economy. The conglomerate came out with a modest earnings beat on lower than expected top-line results. GE’s industrial businesses reported strong growth, with infrastructure orders up 15% and industrial emerging market orders up 26% from the year-earlier level.

On the tech front, we saw better than expected results from Intel, IBM, and Microsoft after the close on Thursday, but Google came out with a negative surprise. Cost per click, a key metric for the search giant, saw its first year-over-year decline while the expectation was for a gain. The issue appears to be structural and fundamental to the company’s business and not a result of one-off factors. Had it been due to one-off factors, management would described it as such on the call, but they didn’t. Is the growing popularity of Android cannibalizing desktop profitability? It is hard to say at this stage, but it appears to be a big problem for the search giant.

In other earnings reports, we have a solid earnings and revenue beat from Schlumberger (SLB - Analyst Report). Unlike many of its commercial banking peers, Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB - Analyst Report) came up short of expectations. Sun Trust Banks (STI - Analyst Report), however, came out with a positive surprise.

Stocks have made steady gains in recent days on the back of strong economic reports, a not-so-bad corporate earnings picture, and the absence of fresh negative headlines out of Europe. There is no reason for this upward drift to stop in the coming days, but stocks likely lack in a catalyst to push them higher today.

Sheraz Mian
Director of Research

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