Apple earnings will be a focus as traders try to figure out if it can beat their estimates again. The stock market is shaking off Standard & Poor's debt warning that we previewed yesterday. Also, gas prices reach a tipping point, gold prices reach a record level, and Raj Rajaratnam reaches for… well, just reaches. Here's what we're watching…
1. iProfits: Apple is set to report quarterly earnings after the market close Wednesday, wrapping a quarter in which CEO Steve Jobs took medical leave, but introduced the second generation iPad to much acclaim. Despite the hype, it may not be the iPad that's driving the seemingly can't miss tech titan. Piper Jaffray released a report Monday, indicating it expects Apple to beat the consensus $5.35 a share estimate on the strength of Mac sales. The company's had a habit of blowing through Wall Street targets, so who'd be surprised if they do it again? Lines at New York Apple stores still evoke Disneyland-like waits.
2. Gold Rush: All that glitters… just got a lot more expensive. Comex June gold futures touched the $1,500 milestone Tuesday, marking an all-time nominal high and causing investors to ask if there's any more room to run. According to many analysts, the answer's yes. And, for perspective, remember that gold's lofty level is still far away from the inflation-adjusted high of nearly $2,400 an ounce.
3. A Year After the Spill: Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a disaster which shocked the region and numerous industries. Offshore drilling was whacked, local tourism and fishing suffered and stories abound of abuse and profit in the claims process. Oh, and BP shareholders saw $55 billion in market cap evaporate. At least Tony Hayward got his life back.
4. America Downshifts: With the national price of gas above $3.80 (according to AAA) and rising, the theme is clear as automakers kick off the New York Auto Show Wednesday. Pain at the pump has already impacted consumer sentiment and crimped economic activity. The question for automakers: when will expensive fuel change America's appetite for driving and its auto preferences? CNBC's Phil LeBeau reports that all signs indicate the tipping point is in our rear view mirror.
5. Raj Trial Closes: After six weeks, testimony has concluded in the landmark insider trading trial of Galleon Group co-founder Raj Rajaratnam. Now, it will be up to attorneys to persuade the jury in closing arguments, which are set to begin Wednesday. The defense claims Rajaratnam's trades were all based on public information and expert analysis, not material non-public information as the government contends. Probably doesn't help when the prosecution plays wiretapped phone calls that seem to capture Mr. Rajaratnam's explanations to colleagues on how to cover up tracks. Whoops.