After world finance ministers critiqued the United States' growing debt over the weekend, markets quaked early Tuesday after Standard & Poor's lowered the US debt outlook to negative. Will US markets follow? Also, Goldman reports earnings without Buffett on its back. Research In Motion preps its unloved tablet and McDonald's conducts a supersized job fair. Here's what we're watching…
1. The Downgrading of America: Well, we're not there yet… but markets dipped broadly Monday when S&P lowered the US debt rating to negative, reminding everyone that the ubiquitous budget debate must ultimately become more than a partisan screaming match. We all know default's unrealistic, but is downgrade really a possibility? Let's hope not. Either way, I'm stocking up on powdered milk and firewood. Wait, why are we trusting S&P on this?
2. Earnings Galore: It's a busy earnings agenda before the market opens Tuesday morning. Two headliners: Goldman Sachs and Johnson & Johnson. The former is expected to report profits of 82 cents a share, as shareholders breathed a sigh of relief when the "bank holding company" repaid its onerous $5 billion loan from Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. Meanwhile, health-care products giant Johnson & Johnson reports numbers under the cloud of persistent recalls. $1.26 a share is Wall Street's target for JNJ.
3. Playbook for Sale: When a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? Maybe that's too extreme, but don't expect to see lines around the block when Research in Motion releases its Playbook tablet Tuesday. With its handheld kingdom under siege from the likes of Apple's iPhone and Google Android-operated competitors, the 7-inch tablet is RIM's most important offering in years. Unfortunately for the company, the device was broadly panned in early reviews.
4. Housing Starts, Anyone?: Maybe it's the historically sour February housing data or maybe just the broader American real estate malaise. Either way, there isn't much optimism of an imminent housing rebound. Tuesday morning's housing starts are expected to tick up to 525,000. But, the smart money doesn't see a break-out in the sector without substantial recovery in the labor market.
5. Now McHiring: Speaking of the labor market, fast food behemoth McDonalds is set to stage a National Hiring Day Tuesday,marketing 50,000 openings at restaurants nationwide. A similar initiative by Mickey D's saw 60,000 applicants apply for 13,000 positions last year. With jobs at a premium, the event serves the dual purpose of flagging the company's strength to Wall Street and rebranding the stigma associated with dead-end McJob slang.