THE WEEK AHEAD: AOL, Microsoft and IBM earnings ahead

3 min read

It's probably a good thing Wall Street will take Monday off to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday after the startling events of the past week. Once traders get back Tuesday they'll be greeted by a slew of technology earnings reports.

This past week offered a little something for everyone.

First, America Online Inc. (NYSE: AOL) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) announced a $350 billion merger that will join the world's largest online service provider and one of the world's largest multimedia companies.

That little transaction marks the largest merger in business history.

Although the deal is expected to slow AOL's growth in the short-term, the access to Time Warner's extensive cable networks, music, magazines and a myriad other businesses should give AOL the clout it needs to grow substantial in the next few years.

Then, Bill Gates decides to step down as CEO and hand over the keys to longtime colleague Steve Ballmer. Gates plans to devote his time exclusively to software development although some pundits said this might be the first step in Microsoft's preparation for a possible break up.

Oh by the way, the Dow Jones industrial average closed up 200 points to a record high of 11,722.98 this week. The Nasdaq composite gained 182 points to end at 4,064.49.

If you were starving for broader economic news, it happened this week.

The December Consumer Price Index, which provides clues to the direction of interest rates, rose 0.2 percent while analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a 0.3 percent increase. The core rate excluding food and energy components, climbed 0.1 percent, short of the expected 0.2 percent.

And December's Producer Price Index, an indicator of inflation at the wholesale level, increased 0.3 percent, matching expectations. The core rate, which excludes volatile food and energy components, grew 0.1 percent, also in line with the average forecast.

"The economic numbers were interpreted very bullishly," said Trude Latimer, an independent stock strategist based in Charlottesville, Va. "I didn't think the comments by Greenspan were that bullish but the market interpreted them bullishly."

Strange that Intel's blowout fourth-quarter earnings merit only a brief mention this week as does a $1.8 billion purchase of Etec Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ETEC) by chip-equipment giant Applied Materials Inc. (NYSE: AMAT).

Looking ahead to next week, analysts and financial journalists better enjoy the three-day weekend because things are going to get crazy next week.

Leading the earnings barrage next week is International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), which earlier announced that Y2K concerns and delays would dent its sales and earnings in fiscal 2000.

Analysts expect IBM to earn $1.06 a share in its fourth quarter, up from the 90 cents a share it posted in the third quarter.

IBM shares closed up 1 7/16 to 119 11/16 Friday.

AOL will announce its second-quarter numbers with analysts' predicting a profit of 8 cents a share.

AOL closed off 2 1/2 to 63 Friday.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) will also roll out it second-quarter earnings with analysts' projecting a profit of 42 cents a share.

Microsoft makes a habit of topping the consensus estimates, but this will be the first quarter it gives guidance without its typically cautious CFO Greg Maffei.

Last quarter, Microsoft easily topped analysts' estimates, earning $2 billion, or 38 cents a share, on sales of $5.4 billion.

Its shares closed up 4 7/16 to 112 1/4 Friday.

After Intel's encouraging quarter, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE: AMD) shareholders must have high hopes.

The chipmaker will report its fourth-quarter results with First Call consensus expecting a profit of a penny a share.

AMD is said to be benefiting from Intel's inability to keep up with rabid demand for high-performance microprocessors. Of course, AMD has raised investors' hopes before only to deliver disappointing results and less-than-acceptable excuses.

AMD shares closed up 2 3/4 to 40 1/2 Friday.

Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) is also scheduled to report its second-quarter earnings next week.

Analysts are looking for a profit of 20 cents a share, up from 17 cents a share in the first quarter.

Its shares closed up 3 1/8 to 80 3/8 Friday.