By the Numbers

Earnings 101: Beyond The Big Names

So you wanna follow earnings season, eh? Maybe it's your first time following the parade of quarterly reports, maybe it's your 50th. But unless you're Jim Cramer, there are probably a number of lesser-known companies that you haven't paid attention to, but should. These firms can tell you a lot about both the economy and the stock market.

Here are my "best of the rest" for next week:

Monday 7/13

Philips Electronics - Too bad it's Dutch. Philips is a $17 billion market capitalization electronics maker that produces everything from TVs to light bulbs and shavers. Do we follow Philips stock in the U.S.? Not really, but its sales and profit numbers provide a good read of demand for consumer electronics worldwide. Sony, in comparison, has a $24 billion market capitalization and much of that is entertainment properties.

CSX - OK, this one is (also) pretty well known, but I mention it for the rail-impaired. It's one of the top transportation companies in the U.S., specifically one of the biggest railroads with 21,000 miles of track across 23 eastern states and two Canadian provinces.

It can tell us:

- Whether companies are shipping more or less goods.

- How fuel prices are impacting energy-intensive firms.

Novellus - Think of it as a tech appetizer before Intel and Google report later in the week.

Novellus sells the machines used to make computer chips. Market capitalization is only $1.7 billion, but it used to be much bigger. 'Worth a look if numbers are a surprise or it gives interesting guidance.

Wednesday 7/15

Cintas - Largest uniform company. Great read on employment levels. How's that work, you ask? Just think of how many companies require their workers to wear uniforms- fast food, package delivery, airlines. About five million people put on Cintas work wear every day.

WW Grainger - Distributor of maintenance, repair and service equipment. They sell over 475,000 products to customers like contractors, hotels and manufacturers.

How do you manage inventory of such a murderously diverse product line in this economy?

Who's buying? Who ain't?

Over 18,000 employees and $5.7 billion market capitalization.

Thursday 7/16

PPG - $6.9 billion market capitalization paint manufacturer with about 45,000 employees. That's a lotta paint. Also makes glass and chemicals. Stock went from nearly $70 in September to $28 in March and back up to $42 now. Jim Cramer interviewed PPG's CEO Charles Bunch on June 11. Bunch said he was beginning to see a recovery in China.

People's United Financial - Regional bank and commercial lender operating in New England and New York. $5.3 billion market capitalization -- which isn't small for a bank these days. Certainly worth a look ahead of all the big banks reporting on Friday (Bank of America, C and BBT). Question: Why hasn't PBCT's share price rebounded along with those of many of the other bank stocks?

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