Week Ahead: First-Quarter Earnings and Inflation

First-quarter earnings season kicks off next week as earnings seasons always do with a report from aluminum products maker Alcoa (NYSE: AA).

Other bellwether companies whose earnings reports are due: banking giants JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), Internet search engine Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and drug store chain Rite Aid (NYSE: RAD).

Company earnings have been generally solid despite recessionary conditions following the financial crisis in 2008. But expansion has been put on hold for many companies until the economic recovery gains traction.

Without expansion, the U.S. labor markets will continue to struggle, as evidenced by Friday’s disappointing jobs report in which it was revealed the economy added just 120,000 jobs in March, well short of expectations.

The lousy jobs report has people wondering whether the Federal Reserve is pondering new policy measures, namely more quantitative easing. Investors will be looking for hints from Fed chief Ben Bernanke and other Fed board members in speeches and various appearances.

While unemployment and a sluggish economy had held a higher priority in recent months than inflation, the Federal Reserve is still keeping an eye on that important data point. Three inflation reports are due next week: the import-price report is out Wednesday; the producer price index is due Thursday; and the consumer price index is out Friday.

All prices that affect consumers are expected to be impacted by rising fuel costs.

Two oilfield-equipment firms are among the companies expected to go public next week: MRC Global Inc. is selling 22.7 million shares at a range of $21 and $23 a share; Forum Energy Technologies will sell 15.8 million shares at a range of $18 to $20.