Easterners have been obsessed with Hurricane Sandy over the last few days, with many knocked off the grid and the financial markets closed for two days. But elsewhere, people have continued to show up for work and companies have continued to do business.
That's likely to produce a frenzy of stock trading once the markets reopen for business, as investors strive to catch up with developments that haven't yet been reflected in stock prices. Here are a few key companies to watch:
Apple. The tech giant has struggled of late, with disappointing earnings and subdued investor reaction to the introduction of Apple's latest gadget, the iPad mini. Now, two key executives — software guru Scott Forstall and retail chief John Browett — have left under contentious circumstances, suggesting that inner turmoil may distract Apple from a tough marketplace in which several competitors are catching up. Investors are already wondering whether Apple's magic has worn off, with the stock falling from a peak of $705 in mid-September to $604 now. If investors interpret the executive departures as a further sign of trouble, the stock will probably fall below $600 for the first time since July.
Ford. The No. 2 U.S. automaker reported strong third-quarter earnings, with profits higher than expected even though sales fell short of forecasts. As expected, the biggest drag on earnings was a sharp loss in Ford's troubled European division. The direction of the stock, once markets reopen, may depend on how quickly investors think Ford can get Europe straightened out, a process still likely to take months or years.
Homebuilders such as PulteGroup, D.R. Horton and KB Home. The latest data on the housing market shows that home prices continue to rise, yet another sign that the housing bust is over for good. It will still take years for the housing market to fully recover, but every modest improvement is good news for home builders and everybody else associated with residential real estate.
Google. The tech colossus canceled an event in New York at which it planned to show off its full lineup of Nexus products — a smartphone, a 7-inch tablet computer, and a 10-inch tablet. While Google's Android software powers millions of devices made by a variety of manufacturers, Google is a newcomer when it comes to selling its own smartphones and tablets. Apple still has a huge lead in the tablet market, but if the Nexus devices get good reviews, Google shares could rise — at Apple's expense.
UPS. The delivery firm said this week that it expects to transport 527 million packages this holiday season, up from 480 million last year. If that buoyant forecast holds, it will signal a healthy pickup in shopping this year, a bullish sign for retailers and the economy overall.
Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Macy's and Amazon. In addition to the upbeat holiday outlook from UPS, personal income rose in the latest reading, suggesting consumers have a bit more money to spend. Consumption rose by more than income, which means that some people borrowed to finance purchases. But consumers have also been growing surprisingly optimistic, so they might not mind racking up a bit more debt to enjoy a sumptuous holiday.
eBay. One discouraging announcement came from this online auction site, which laid off about 325 workers in its PayPal unit, as part of a big streamlining effort meant to boost profitability. Since Wall Street often interprets layoffs as a sign that future results will improve, eBay shares could rise once trading resumes. After two days off, anxious Wall Street traders might be inclined to apply a little bit of positive spin to most of the news they digest.
Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.