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Earnings Preview: Retailers on the Radar

As the markets continue their march higher, investors will look to the tail end of fourth quarter earnings season for signs that corporate revenues and profits are improving.

The earnings calendar is relatively light next week, but several retailers are expected to issue reports.

Dick's Sporting Goods and Urban Outfitters will report on Monday, while Costco numbers come out on Tuesday.

Thomson Reuters estimates that Dick's will report fourth quarter earnings per share of $1.06 on revenue of $1.8 billion. It estimates that Costco will report fourth quarter earnings per share of $1.06 on revenue of $25.1 billion, and that Urban Outfitters fourth quarter earnings per share will come in at 57 cents on revenue of $848 billion.

On Wednesday, Men's Warehouse releases its earnings. Ulta Salon and Aeropostale will report on Thursday.

(Read More: Confidence Back? Several Retailers Top Sales Forecasts)

While we've already heard from most retailers, these last few reports will add color on consumer sentiment and confidence. They will also offer additional trends on the health of consumer spending, especially amid higher gas prices and fears over the economy.

Companies like Dick's, Costco, and Men's Warehouse are a good gauge of how value-oriented consumers will approach their budgets in the new year.

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The retail sector as a whole "had a good quarter, benefiting from a strong holiday shopping season," said Greg Harrison, a corporate research analyst at Thomson Reuters. "Generally, consumers shrugged off fears of higher taxes to come in 2013 and uncertainty over the fiscal cliff and continued to spend."

(Read More: Retail Stocks Helped Propel Market Higher)

At this point, nearly all of the S&P 500 companies have reported quarterly results and it appears that earnings are on track to grow about 6 percent year-over-year. Roughly 64 percent of companies have reported fourth quarter 2012 revenue above analyst expectations and about 69 percent have exceeded expectations on earnings, according to Thomson Reuters.

However, results for the first quarter of 2013 aren't expected to be quite as strong. Some analysts said that's a typical seasonal trend. Thomson Reuters is expecting revenue growth of 1 percent and earnings growth of 1.4 percent year-over-year.

"Fears over the economy and higher taxes appear to be affecting consumer spending in the first quarter of 2013, as payroll taxes are leaving shoppers with less to spend." Harrison said.

Still, there are some sectors that appear to be bright spots going forward. Thomson Reuters expects the strongest sectors for earnings growth year-over-year in the first quarter will be financials (10.3 percent), consumer discretionary (7.4 percent) and telecom (5.9 percent).

(Read More: Shifting Gears to Woo a Cautious Consumer)

However, with the Dow hitting all-time highs this week, many investors are asking if we've hit an inflection point in terms of the turnaround of the U.S. economy. Is the worst behind us? Harrison said it's possible that this last quarter of quarter of solid earnings, which followed a weak third quarter, could be convincing investors that the low point is behind us and that companies will continue to post consistently positive growth.

"The forward P/E [price-to-earnings ratio] of the S&P 500 is 13.8 as of today, which is still below the historical average around 15, but still an increase from the recent history, where it has been right around 13," Harris said. "To the extent that the market is trading on fundamentals, this suggests that investors are becoming more confident in earnings growth."

—By CNBC's Jackie DeAngelis; Follow her on Twitter: @JackieDeAngelis

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