What Investors Missed in the Market Last Week

By Markets Fool.com

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'Tis the season. Earnings season, that is, and during early Friday trading, it appeared that a handful of major banks beating earnings estimates could lift the markets to a small gain for the week -- but it didn't last, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 ended 0.56% and 0.96% lower for the week, respectively.

"Earnings season gave us a little boost this morning, but I think there's a lot of nervousness here," said Matthew Peron, head of global equities at Northern Trust Asset Management, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In other news, U.S. retail sales topped analysts' estimates, moving 0.6% higher in September, compared to August. That's good news for investors, and the markets, as retail spending remains a driver of the U.S. economic growth, and we're nearing the holiday shopping season.

With that aside, let's take a look at a handful of companies making big moves or big headlines last week.

Alcoa kicks it off

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Alcoa, Inc. (NYSE: AA) which is often looked at as a preview for multiple industrial industries, didn't start earnings season the way investors had hoped. Alcoa released its third-quarter results on Tuesday and whiffed on both its top and bottom lines, which sent its stock 15% lower for the week and, of course, prompted Wall Street to downgrade the stock on Wednesday.

Bank of America lowered its rating on Alcoa stock from "buy" to "neutral" and noted that weakness at the company's aerospace unit and execution issues were at the heart of the pessimism. The downgrade came with a lowered price target from $33 down to $30 thanks to the belief that the company's profit margins will remain under pressure.

Zooming in on Alcoa's actual results, it reported $5.2 billion in net revenue, which was a 6% decline compared to the prior year, and below the $5.3 billion consensus estimate. Alcoa's bottom-line earnings per share checked in at $0.33, three pennies short of analyst estimates. Ultimately, there's also probably a bit of uncertainty as the company heads toward its split into two stand-alone investments: Alcoa and Arconic. There's also no question that better days could be ahead for the company as aerospace is expected to continue growing rapidly in the long-term picture, and eventually, aluminum prices will recover -- it's just a matter of how far out that day is.

Prepare for disappointment

Ahead of Rent-A-Center, Inc.'s (NASDAQ: RCII) third-quarter results due out on October 27, management decided it would warn investors to prepare for disappointing results. More specifically, Rent-A-Center estimates its core U.S. same-store sales for the third quarter will check in down roughly 12%, and that Acceptance Now same-store sales will be flat. Worse yet, adjusted earnings per share are expected to check in between $0.05 to $0.15, a far cry from the prior year's $0.47 per share.

"Following the implementation of our new point-of-sale system, we experienced system performance issues and outages that resulted in a larger than expected negative impact on Core sales," said Robert D. Davis, Chief Executive Officer of Rent-A-Center, Inc. "While we expect it to take several quarters to fully recover from the impact to the Core portfolio, system performance has improved dramatically, and we have started to see early indicators of collections improvement."

While honest, that quote didn't stop consumers from jumping ship and sending Rent-A-Center stock down 30% for the week. What investors should watch for now are results from Rent-A-Center competitors such as Aaron's. That will add insight to whether Rent-A-Center's decline was truly a hiccup, or perhaps an industry-wide trend.

Car sales soar

There's nothing like a sense of urgency to draw consumers out of the woodwork, and that's essentially what's happening with China's automotive industry late in 2016 as the government's tax incentives on new vehicles are coming to a close when the calendar changes to 2017. As consumers realized the opportunity won't be around much longer, light-vehicle sales in China shot up a staggering 29% in September.

While unable to match China's overall sales gains, General Motors (NYSE: GM) still posted a great month in China, its largest sales market by volume; however, the North America region drives the majority of its profits. GM and its joint ventures delivered a September record of 343,773 vehicles in China, a 16% gain compared to the prior year, and Cadillac set an all-time record for monthly deliveries. More specifically, Cadillac's sales jumped 63% from the prior year to 12,539 units thanks to increasing demand for its XT5 crossover and ATS and XTS sedans.

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Daniel Miller owns shares of General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America and General Motors. 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 Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.