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What this week's earnings will say about consumers

Investors are gearing up for a big week of earnings, and the third-quarter results could tell us a great deal about the state of the American consumer.

Companies as diverse as Netflix, Caterpillar, and Ford will report their third-quarter numbers this week. But the most indicative results might come out of McDonald's, which reports on Monday before the opening bell.

Peter Saleh, who covers the fast-food giant for Telsey Advisory Group, says that with more than 14,000 restaurants across America, McDonald's can tell us a great deal about consumer spending.

McDonald's is "almost everywhere," Saleh said. "So weak results out of McDonald's would suggest that the overall economy has not materially improved."

With that in mind, how will the results actually look?

"This is probably not going to be a good traffic quarter for McDonald's," Saleh predicts. "They're trying out different things, like Mighty Wings, to try to spur some interest, but so far we haven't seen a real significant rebound."

(Read more: McDonald's to offer salad, fruit as options instead of fries)

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Saleh expects the company to report $1.52 in earnings per share, compared with $1.43 in the year prior. The analyst has a $103 price target on the stock.

(Read more: After the shutdown, soft earnings look like new normal)

In general, third-quarter earnings have been decent, with 62 percent of companies reporting earnings above estimates, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. But on the revenue side, the picture hasn't been as pretty, with only 53 percent of companies beating top-line estimates.

The divergence between earnings and revenue is a trend that concerns Anthony Grisanti of GRZ Energy.

"We're going to see if what happened in the second quarter continues into the third, where earnings per share were decent, but revenue fell short," Grisanti said.

"And if we see revenue falling short, that means there's not a lot of research and development going on, there's not a lot of reinvestment back into businesses, and that does not bode well for the first quarter of next year."

—By CNBC's Alex Rosenberg. Follow him on Twitter: @C NBCAlex.

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