TORONTO - Earnings news and a heavy slate of economic data will set the tone on stock markets this week.
Investors will get the first of the quarterly earnings reports from energy sector heavyweights such as Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) and Suncor Energy (TSX:SU).
Markets are already braced for lower profits. Analysts expect Imperial Oil to post earnings per share of 83 cents, down sharply from $1.24 a year ago. And Suncor's earnings are expected to come in at 43 cents, a long way from last year's 66 cents.
But the big question is what sort of outlook can be expected in an environment where oil prices have plunged about 40 per cent just since the end of November. That is when OPEC ruled out cutting production levels to support prices that had already started to fall sharply from the highs of last summer.
"With the volatility in oil prices, it’s going to be near impossible for any oil company to give accurate guidance as to where things are going to go," said Kash Pashootan, portfolio manager at Raymond James in Ottawa.
"How can (senior managers) make any sort of projection, run any sort of model. They don’t know if the price of oil is going to be higher or lower?"
Several energy companies have already moved to slash capital spending and some have decided to cut dividend payments to preserve cash flow.
"So, in this environment for the oil companies, it’s a function of staying lean, keeping costs under control and getting through the storm," Pashootan said.
"We know at some point oil prices will start to go back up to what is more reasonable. The question is when."
Oil prices ended last week on an up note, moving as high as US$48, bouncing off mid-week levels around $45.
Markets will be also looking to a raft of American data as the U.S. economy has been the top global economic performer for many months. Growth in China has stalled and the European Central Bank is just now embarking on a program of quantitative easing aimed at stabilizing the eurozone economy and boosting inflation.
Markets will digest data on growth in the American manufacturing sector when the Institute for Supply Management releases its January survey on Monday. Factory orders and vehicle sales data come out Tuesday, the latest trade picture is released Thursday and the week is capped off by the latest snapshot of American job growth.
Economists are looking for the U.S. economy to continue a trend that has seen the creation of around 250,000 new positions a month.
"It certainly did look like through the end of last year, and hopefully into the start of this year, that the U.S. economy and the job market had regained some significant momentum . . . ," said David Watt, chief economist at HSBC Canada.
"Certainly the (U.S.) oilpatch will get squeezed but hopefully the broader gains in the rest of the U.S. economy will still create a positive job environment."
Canadian jobs data also comes out Friday and economists expect Statistics Canada to report that the economy cranked out 5,000 jobs in January.
That is below the average monthly pace of 10,000 jobs a month registered in 2014 but then expectations for this year are very modest.
"For 2015, the fallout from the energy sector will be felt in private payrolls out west, while government hiring will get hit from lower (oil) royalties and related restraint," said CIBC World Markets economist Nick Exarhos.
"We can only hope manufacturing will use the lift provided by the weaker Canadian dollar to spur employment growth in the back half of the year."
The TSX ended last week with a gain of 113 points or 0.8 per cent while New York's Dow industrials fell 389 points or 2.22 per cent.