It may be impossible to predict all the news that will move financial markets, but every quarter, we know exactly when the ritual of earnings season begins. Today's the day it all starts, as Alcoa (NYS: AA) leads things off after the market closes this afternoon. Yet unlike in past earnings seasons, investors are nervous this time around, as many expect the big gains in previous quarters during the rebound from the recession to come to an end. Moreover, international issues are heating up again as discord in Europe and growth concerns in Asia sap the confidence that central-bank interventions last month gave investors. By 10:45 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI) were down 22 points.

Among Dow stocks, Alcoa was actually the biggest gainer, rising 1%. The general consensus seems to be that with expectations so low, the aluminum maker could really soar if things turn out even slightly better than most people expect. In the long term, though, Alcoa still faces many macroeconomic headwinds that could hurt the company in the future.

Intel (NAS: INTC) , on the other hand, was the sharpest loser of the session, falling more than 2%. Layoffs at its McAfee unit are just adding to longer-term concerns about its transition away from PCs and toward mobile devices. But as Fool contributor Tim Brugger noted yesterday, Intel's movement has been slow, but steady progress should pay off in the long run. Moreover, unlike Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) , which is having to make a serious strategic transformation that CEO Meg Whitman thinks will take years to fully accomplish, Intel is better-positioned to make a big push into any area it chooses.


Finally, JPMorgan Chase (NYS: JPM) rose about a third of a percent after analysts at Goldman Sachs played up the value of big bank stocks in a housing recovery. Given how much many homebuilder stocks have already risen, banks arguably represent better value if the recovery in the housing market proves to be for real this time around.

Earnings will move the markets in the coming weeks, and focusing on each company can give you an edge. Learn all about Intel before its earnings release a week from today by taking a look at The Motley Fool's premium research report on the chip maker. Get the edge you need by clicking here to get your report right now.

The article Why the Dow's Limping Into Earnings Season originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger owns warrants on JPMorgan Chase. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel and JPMorgan Chase. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and writing puts on Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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