Gauging the economic climate: The companies with earnings reports to watch

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By Jeffrey R. Kosnett
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 5:24 PM

Here are bellwether companies, in order of reporting date. Their results will provide the big picture and an overall direction in key industries and sectors.

Costco Wholesale (COST)

Reporting date: Oct. 6

Analysts' average earnings-per-share estimate for the quarter: 95 cents

Actual earnings: 97 cents, up 14 percent

Most retailers typically close their fiscal years at the end of January so that their announcements capture post-Christmas sales and returns. Not Costco, whose fiscal year ends at the end of August. That makes its report especially useful for divining trends in consumer spending and confidence as the holidays approach.

Fastenal (FAST)

Reporting date: Oct. 12, before the market opens

Analysts' average earnings-per-share estimate for the quarter: 50 cents, up 32 percent

Here's a no-nonsense indicator for companies that make stuff. Fastenal is a retailer and distributor of parts and products used in manufacturing, maintenance and construction. A strong earnings report and upbeat comments would confirm that industry and building are perking up. But it would fall hard if the results and the outlook disappoint.

Intel (INTC)

Reporting date: Oct. 12, after the market closes

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