By Emily Bary
Consumer spending is in full focus Thursday, following upbeat indications from United Parcel Service Inc. and Mastercard Inc. in the face of macroeconomic uncertainty. But the real test comes after the bell when juggernaut Amazon.com Inc. reports.
UPS /zigman2/quotes/201245396/composite UPS +0.87% executives said that the company was more productive this year during the peak holiday season, and the shipping giant continues to benefit from investments in automation. Despite some geopolitical headwinds, “e-commerce is providing all kinds of opportunities,” according to Chief Executive David Abney. The company’s latest initiative on the consumer front is a partnership with Shop Runner, through which members of UPS’s My Choice program will be eligible for two-day shipping through the service.
Mastercard /zigman2/quotes/207581792/composite MA +1.04% admitted to “recent declines in consumer confidence” in several European countries, but the company powered through, posting an acceleration in dollar-volume growth. The company struck a more upbeat tone than peer Visa Inc., which spooked investors with its outlook the prior afternoon.
But the ultimate report comes after the bell: Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +5.77% has had a spotty streak of meeting revenue expectations for the holiday quarter, and it will look to break that pattern.
Other notable reports
•If current gains hold, General Electric Co.’s /zigman2/quotes/208495069/composite GE +2.64% stock will post its largest single-day increase in more than a decade. Helping matters were strong performances by the company’s aviation and renewable energy businesses, which helped outweigh an overall earnings miss.
•Things aren’t so sweet over at Hershey Co. /zigman2/quotes/202765576/composite HSY -0.32% , but the company asserts that its acquisitions of the Skinny Pop and Pirate’s Booty parent companies are posting “strong growth.”
•ConocoPhillips /zigman2/quotes/207605056/composite COP -0.36% spent a bit more on capital expenditures than some on Wall Street may have liked, according to Mizuho analyst Paul Sankey, but the oil company’s shares are heading higher Thursday.
•In perhaps one of its last reports as a standalone company, Celgene Corp. saw strong growth in drugs that treat psoriasis and multiple myeloma. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. /zigman2/quotes/202559280/composite BMY +1.78% announced its plans to buy Celgene earlier this month.
•Aerospace companies have given mixed signals over the past few days, and the latest to do so is Northrop Grumman Corp. /zigman2/quotes/205518355/composite NOC +0.78% , which issued a disappointing forecast.
•Charter Communications Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201656355/composite CHTR +1.66% plans to lower its capital spending, and MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett said the company “can legitimately be seen as a growth story again.”
•Sprint Corp. performed the worst of the wireless bunch in terms of postpaid phone net additions during the holiday quarter, BTIG’s Walt Piecyk pointed out, shedding 26,000 customers. But AT&T Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T +1.36% was weaker on the year.
Coming up after the bell
Look for updates on Amazon’s advertising business during the e-commerce giants earnings call. Amazon has quietly been building an ad powerhouse, by ramping up hiring and improving its technology, according to Susquehanna’s Shyam Patil. Those enhancements could drive “significant growth,” especially in terms of sponsored products, he said.
Also on the docket are cybersecurity names Proofpoint Inc. /zigman2/quotes/207816916/composite PFPT +1.28% and Symantec Corp. Proofpoint has been adjusting its sales practices to account for its growing scale, including by placing increased emphasis on international sales. Watch for the impacts of these changes, which Needham’s Alex Henderson calls “the right move” over the long term even if they have an impact on operating margins.