Market Preview: Halfway to May

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Updated from 5:30 p.m. ET to include additional information on after-hours action.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Odd day on Wall Street.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted a solid gain as Americans shopped up a storm in March, the S&P 500 was lethargic, and the Nasdaq slumped with Apple playing the role of albatross, falling for a fifth straight session.

Fear not though. Tobias Levkovich, chief U.S. equity strategist at Citigroup, argued early Monday that there's good reason to believe that consumer spending will continue to hold up well despite any blips in the housing or employment data.

This is because it's ultra rich who open their wallets the most, he explained. As it turns out, the ultra rich also own the majority of the stocks, so they're likely feeling awful flush these days.

"Stock prices remain a key bulwark for spending potential as higher end consumers drive roughly half of discretionary spending," Levkovitch said. "While investors often focus on home prices when considering the household sector's financial health, it is critical to recognize the impact of stock prices on household wealth and thereby on retail sales trends. Furthermore, almost half of all discretionary consumer spending is coming from the top 20% of income earners who happen to own an estimated 90% of all stocks. Thus, despite the recent pullback, investors are up meaningfully from levels seen six months ago, supporting consumption."

Meantime, the positives coming out of this early round of first-quarter reports were enough to prompt UBS to boost its earnings estimate for the S&P 500 on Monday. The firm went to a bottoms-up profit view of $24.50 per share, increased from $24 per share, and left intact its year-end target of 1475 for the index, which would represent a 7.7% gain from Monday's finish at 1370. From a sector standpoint, UBS sees the financials, energy and technology as the best bets to outperform.

"As we look at early reports (8.7% of the S&P 500 has reported by market-cap), we see that initial results have come in very strong. In particular, earnings have exceeded forecasts by 10.4%, and revenues have beaten estimates by 2.8%," the firm noted, adding later: "Although the magnitude of earnings beats looks quite large, we are not overly surprised. More specifically, while robust economic activity and a healthy stock market pointed to strength in 1Q, consensus estimates were revised lower over the course of the quarter, contradicting these trends."

It's unlikely companies will continue to beat the consensus view by such a wide margin but it never hurts to get off to a strong start. Last week showed there is a considerable amount of nervousness out there, and the stakes will only climb higher now that the calendar is halfway to May. After all, the low-bar theory about first-quarter earnings can be spun both ways.

May looms for more reasons than just the catchy oft-quoted adage about going away this year. The specter of how 2011 played out remains, and Spain's situation could overwhelm the fundamentals at any time. Then there's the expiration date for the Federal Reserve's Operation Twist waiting at the end of June. The ultra rich may need to shop overtime (and buy plenty of new iPads) to keep this market churning higher through summer.

As for Tuesday's scheduled news, earnings season is poised to ramp up even further with four Dow components opening their books: Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson before the open; followed by IBM , Intel after the close.

The world's biggest chip maker gets the spotlight treatment here. Wall Street is expecting a profit of 50 cents a share from Intel in the March-ended three-month period on revenue of $12.84 billion.

Intel shares are up nearly 16% so far in 2012, outpacing the gains in the broad market. The valuation looks good with the stock trading at a forward price-to-earnings multiple of 10.86X with an annual dividend yield for this year of 3% at current levels. Intel is typically steady as she goes when it comes to beating earnings expectations, topping the consensus view in the past eight quarters with an average upside surprise of roughly 13%.

Thirty of the 53 analysts covering Intel rate the stock at either hold (26) or underperform (4) and the 12-month median price target is $28, so valuation would appear to be a bit of a concern on the sell side. Intel shares closed Monday at $28.41, up 1.1%.

UBS is expecting an in-line performance, although it has a "bias" to the upside as hard disk drive supply constraints start to ease. The firm, which has a buy rating and $34 price target on Intel, thinks guidance for the second quarter should be strong as the company is poised to release its more energy-efficient Ivy Bridge processors later this month.

"We expect the trends from 1Q to support solid 2Q growth as Ivy Bridge ramps; the return towards normal hard drive supply and pricing along with a mix shift to ultrabooks (~10% of 2QE ODM original device manufacturers notebooks) support potential upside," said UBS, which is currently forecasting earnings of 54 cents a share from Intel in the second quarter on revenue of $13.55 billion."

The firm added that its recent channel checks in Asia suggested that pricing is holding up well.

"Our Asian disti distribution checks show Intel processor ASPs average selling prices remain firm, which we believe reflects low channel inventory for both PC products and processors. One disti contact indicated overall semiconductor inventories are down to 18 days with CPUs central processing units at 23 days -- a record low," UBS said. "PC shipments are also looking marginally better as HDD shortages ease and are expected to be completely resolved in 2Q."

Check out TheStreet's quote page for Intel for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more.

Goldman Sachs also reports its first-quarter results early Tuesday, and the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for a profit of $3.55 a share on revenue of $9.45 billion. The financials have been a bit of a mixed bag so far with JPMorgan Chase getting dinged on higher costs, but Citigroup able to rally despite a topline miss.

Goldman shares have gained more than 25% so far in 2012, but the stock is still well off a 52-week high of $156.10 dating back to last April. The firm's Wall Street brethren on the sell side are fairly skeptical with 17 of the 29 analysts covering the stock at either hold (16) or underperform (1), though the median 12-month price target of $145 implies potential upside of 23% from Monday's close at $117.73.

With a forward price-to-earnings multiple of 8.64X, Goldman is still more expensive than rival Morgan Stanley , which trades at 7.57X next year's earnings estimate. Morgan's exposure to Europe has been a drag on the stock.

Although Goldman beat the average analysts' profit view last time around, it missed in the two preceding quarters. It's also worth noting that the consensus revenue estimate is 20% below last year's reported first-quarter total of $11.89 billion.

Goldman watchers will be looking to see if the firm's clients have boosted their risk tolerance and boosted their "willingness to transact," a lack of which CEO Lloyd Blankfein lamented last quarter. Expect the conference call to include a few questions on customer reaction to the now infamous Greg Smith New York Times op-ed where the former Goldman employee alleged he witnesses clients referred to a "muppets."

Check out TheStreet's quote page for Goldman Sachs for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more.

Other companies reporting Tuesday morning include Comerica , Forest Laboratories , McMoran Exploration , Northern Trust , Omnicom Group , State Street , TD Ameritrade , U.S. Bancorp , and W.W. Grainger .

The late roster features Cree , Intuitive Surgical , Seagate Technology , Stryker , United Rentals , and Yahoo! .

The economic calendar on Tuesday features housing starts and building permits for March at 8:30 a.m. ET; and industrial production and capacity utilization for March at 9:55 a.m. ET.

And finally, the after-hours session was relatively quiet and even one of the most active stocks hardly moved. Research In Motion ticked up 2 cents to $13.42 in extended trades with more than 1.8 million shares changing hands. The BlackBerry maker is reportedly considering hiring two banks to help it weigh its strategic options.

The news was reported late in Monday's regular session by Bloomberg, prompting a spike higher just ahead of the closing bell. RIM has been the subject of takeover speculation for a while as it's struggled to compete with Apple and Google in the smartphone market. The stock has lost 75% of its value in the past year, and currently trades at a forward price-to-earnings multiple of 7.5X.

--Written by Michael Baron in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.

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