Stocks Mixed Ahead of Earnings; Apple Shares Rise

Andrea Tse

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Major U.S. stock averages were mixed in early trading Tuesday as investors paused for the unofficial start of earnings season with a report from aluminum giant Alcoa(:AA).

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 27.95 points, or 0.21%, at 13,356. The S&P 500 was down 3.25 points, or 0.21%, at 1459. The Nasdaq was up 1.85 points, or 0.07%, at 3100 as Apple(:AAPL) shares gained more than 1% amid a DigiTimes report that said the tech giant is developing a low-cost iPhone for emerging markets for 2013.

There were also reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook made his second visit to China in less than a year and met with the country's ministry of industry and information technology.

Aluminum giant Alcoa is expected by analysts Tuesday to post fourth-quarter earnings of 6 cents a share on revenue of $5.61 billion.

Shares of Alcoa were up 0.55%.

"Starting Tuesday afternoon, with Alcoa's Q4 earnings report, corporate fundamentals will start to matter again -- if only briefly," said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx. "U.S. companies have proven time and again over the last four years that they can deliver strong bottom-line results in spite of a tepid global economy. The market-moving information will, instead, be at the top of the income statement -- as it was during Q3 2012 season."

Colas' monthly review of analysts' revenue estimates for the companies of the Dow shows an expected rebound from the third quarter's negative 2% year-on-year change to positive 1.1%. On the downside, said Colas, that's what analysts thought last quarter, right before many large multinational corporations missed on the top line.

Thomson Reuters is expecting fourth-quarter earnings to grow 2.8% over the same period last year. Thomson Reuters said that of the 21 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings to date for the fourth quarter 2012, 62% have reported earnings above analysts' expectations. This matches the long-term average of 62% and is lower than the average over the past four quarters of 65%.

Meanwhile, 67% of companies have reported fourth-quarter revenue above analyst expectations, according to Thomson Reuters. This is higher than the long-term average of 62% and higher than the average over the past four quarters of 50%.

The economic calendar is light Tuesday.

At 1:30 p.m. EST, Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker will speak on the economic outlook in South Carolina.

The Federal Reserve is expected by economists to report at 3 p.m. EST that consumer credit increased by $12.75 billion in November after expanding by $14.2 billion in October.

Gold for February delivery was up Tuesday by $5.60 at $1,651.90 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while February crude oil contracts were up 33 cents at $93.52 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was up 4/32, diluting the yield to 1.89%. The dollar was down 0.1%, according to the U.S. dollar index.

European markets were trading higher after some upbeat economic sentiment numbers. The FTSE 100 in London was up 0.09%, while the DAX in Germany was up 0.05%.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed down 0.94% and the Nikkei Average in Japan settled off 0.86% as investors exercised caution ahead of the unofficial start of the fourth-quarter earnings season.

In corporate news, Yum Brands(:YUM) warned Monday that KFC sales in China would be slower because of a government review of its poultry.

Shares were tumbling nearly 4%.

AIG's(:AIG) board is meeting Wednesday to consider whether to join a $25 billion shareholder lawsuit against the government, court records show, The New York Times reported.

Shares were down 0.56%.

Seeds company Monsanto(:MON) raised its full-year earnings guidance to $4.30 to $4.40 a share and full-year free cash flow guidance to $1.8 billion to $2 billion after it blew past first-quarter estimates.

Monsanto reported quarterly earnings of 62 cents a share on revenue of $2.94 billion, versus the average analyst expectation of 37 cents a share on revenue of $2.64 billion as it garnered strength from the continued expansion of its Latin American corn business, early momentum in its U.S. seeds and traits business and its agricultural productivity segment.

Shares were jumping 3.5%.

Sears(:SHLD) said late Monday that CEO Louis D'Ambrosio is stepping down for family health reasons; Chairman Edward Lampert will take over the CEO duties.

The U.S. retailer also said it expects a loss in the quarter ending Feb. 2 of $280 million to $360 million, or $2.64 to $3.40 a share. The period includes a charge of about $450 million related to pension settlements.

Shares were sliding nearly 3%.

ConAgra Foods(:CAG) announced a $240 million secondary stock offering. The company said it intends to use the proceeds from the offering to help fund the previously announced acquisition of Ralcorp.

Shares were shedding 1%.

Chesapeake Energy(:CHK) said that it plans to significantly scale back its charitable, trade association and political spending for its cost-cutting program.

Shares were down more than 1.5%.

Health insurer WellPoint(:WLP) said that it anticipates its full-year 2012 earnings per share to come in at the high end or exceed the company's previous guidance.

Shares were up more than 1%.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.