Next Wave of Earnings on its Way
The two companies will also set the stage for the next critical leg of the earnings season when a third of both the S&P 500 and Dow Industrials report next week. The comments from companies this quarter are particularly important since they may provide some guidance on the state of the economy, which seems to have hit a soft patch in March. For the most part, economists expect the swoon to be relatively short-lived, with growth resuming at a higher level later in the year.
GE is seen as a global bellwether, an industrial and financial giant that has broad exposure to the world economy, and McDonald's, with restaurants around the world, provides insight into the consumer globally.
(Read More: Get Ready to Play the Coming Deflation Trade)
"I think that's a global story to the extent that they probably will provide some commentary on what's going on in China and what's going on in Europe, which are hot topics these days. I think everyone is pretty curious about currency impact as well, given the rally in the dollar," said Gina Martin Adams, institutional equity strategist at Wells Fargo Securities.
Investors will also focus on Thursday's after-the-bell tech earnings. IBM shares slumped in the afterhours session, after its net income fell more than 1 percent on declines in services and hardware sales. It earned $2.70 per share, on revenues of $23.4 billion, down from $24.7 billion the year earlier. Revenues fell three percent in the U.S., four percent in Europe but rose three percent in the BRIC countries.
Microsoft stock rose late Thursday after it reported better-than-expected earnings of $0.72 per share, up from $0.60 a year ago. Revenues grew to $20.5 billion, an 18 percent increase. The company also had another surprise- CFO Peter Klein said he planned to leave the company.
As of Thursday morning, 82 S&P 500 companies had reported, resulting in projected profit growth of 1.9 percent for the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters. Seventy-two of the reports have beaten earnings estimates, but a slim 44 percent beat on revenues. Fifty-six percent missed on revenues, eight percent above the average number of misses in the last four quarters.
"Earnings, I would argue are coming in better than expected. Underneath the surface is something that's not quite so healthy. They're struggling on the top line, the revenue side. That is indicative of a global economy growing below trend," said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management.
(Read More: Google Earnings Beat, but Revenue Misses)
Next week, about 170 of the S&P 500 report, and 10 Dow stocks, including industrial, consumer, pharmaceutical and energy companies.
The stock market has been choppy in the past week, as investors worried about selling in commodities and weaker economic reports in the U.S. and around the world. The Dow lost 81 to 14,537, and the S&P was off 10 at 1541. The market has seen a fair amount of technical damage in a week that so far has the Dow down 2.2 percent and the S&P down nearly three percent.
(Read More: Pullback Puts Market Nowhere After 13 Years)
The S&P closed below its 50-day moving average (1543) Thursday. "It's the first time we've experienced that this year. It probably will create some selling pressure," said Adams.
What to Watch
McDonald's is expected to see earnings per share growth of three percent, to $1.27, and revenues increase by one percent to $6.59 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.
GE is expected to earn $0.35 per share, an increase of two percent on revenues of $34.5 billion, down two percent. GE is the former parent of NBC Universal. Both companies report before the opening bell.
Other companies reporting earnings before the open include SAP, Baker Hughes, Schlumberger, Genuine Parts, Honeywell, Interpublic, Kansas City Southern, Kimberly-Clark, State Street, Under Armour and Rockwell Collins.
SeaWorld shares begin trading on the NYSE, under the symbol SEAS Friday. The IPO priced at $27 Thursday, the high end of its expected range.
The G-20 winds down its meeting, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank hold their spring meeting in Washington. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew speaks to the IMF at 5:15 p.m. ET.
(Read More: What the G20 Need to Talk About This Week)
Federal Reserve Gov. Jeremy Stein speaks on the economy at 8 a.m. in Charlotte, N.C. at the Richmond Fed Credit Markets Symposium.
There is no economic data Friday.
Treasury prices rose Thursday, after more disappointing data came from the Philadelphia Fed, which said its business activity index fell to 1.3 in April from 2.0 in March. Weekly jobless claims, however, were roughly in line at 352,000, a gain of 4,000.
(Read More: Steady as It Goes for Jobless Claims Picture)
MKM economist and strategist Michael Darda said despite all the worry and stock market sell off, there's not much evidence of a tightening of liquidity conditions.
"With commodity prices slumping, investors are understandably worried about global growth. There's also concern that Q1 earnings season is shaping up to be a dud. The combination has led to sharp selloff in emerging market equities and a much-anticipated pullback in U.S. stocks," Darda wrote in a note. "…The most important macro indicator released today (in our view) was jobless claims, which have been (inversely) correlated to the equity market and remain in a moderate descent on a year-to-year basis, consistent with a gradually improving labor market and ongoing business cycle recovery. Pullbacks will come and go, but this business cycle still has legs in our view."
The 10-year yield fell to 1.68 percent. The prices of Treasurys designed to protect investors from inflation fell sharply Thursday, after a weak auction. Yields on the 5-year TIPS hit their highest level since January after investors showed lackluster interest in an $18 billion auction.