This week brings more data on sales of new and existing homes in December. If the numbers look weak, analysts say, homebuilder stocks may appear overbid and the rally may pause until earnings results arrive from big players like D.R. Horton Inc. (Jan. 29) and PulteGroup Inc. (Jan. 31).
— HOW SUPER, STORM SANDY? Superstorm Sandy had broad, negative economic effects, like keeping holiday shoppers home and wiping out disposable income. But its most direct impact was on insurers. Risk modeling firm AIR Worldwide says storm-related losses covered by insurers could total $16 billion to $22 billion.
This quarter's earnings will give traders their first look at how hard Sandy hit the major property and casualty insurance companies. Analysts have been reducing their expectations for the financial industry's performance mainly because of insurers, Butters said.
Reporting on Friday, auto insurer Progressive Corp. said Sandy cost it about $15 million in December, contributing to a decline in net income of 3 percent from the same quarter a year earlier.
The Travelers Cos. Inc., one of the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average, reports its results on Tuesday. ACE Ltd. reports on Jan. 29.
— TECH TROUBLE: Tech companies have been vocal about the challenges they face. Of the 32 tech companies that gave earlier guidance about their fourth-quarter performance, more than 90 percent were negative, Butters says. The usual number is closer to 50 percent, he said.
One troubling sign Thursday was Intel Corp.'s announcement that weak demand for personal computers caused its fourth-quarter net income to fall 27 percent and its revenue to decline 3 percent. Intel also predicted a low single-digit percentage increase in revenue this year.
The tech portion of the S&P 500 has relied on Apple for its growth in recent quarters. But many analysts expect Apple to post its first year-over-year decline in quarterly earnings since 2003 when it reports on Wednesday. That's a big reason why analysts expect tech to be the second-worst performing sector of the 10 industry groups in the S&P 500, Butters says. They expect an industry-wide decline in earnings of 3 percent.
For Apple, it will be "a pivotal quarter," says Kevin Pleinis, equity market analyst at Birinyi Associates, a stock market research and money management firm. Apple's stock has lost 29 percent of its value since closing at a record $702.10 on Sept. 19. The sell-off was based on vague news reports about demand for iPhones and possible new product introductions, Pleinis says.
"It will be interesting to see if the fundamentals of Apple still stack up," he says.
Daniel Wagner can be reached at www.twitter.com/wagnerreports .