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What to watch as global earnings season gets into full swing

New York Stock Exchange.

Richard Drew/AP

Will the recent hurricanes pummel earnings in the third quarter? How will geopolitical tensions and the U.K.'s messy divorce from Europe affect the outlook of global companies? And can anything derail America's stock market rally?

Investors await answers to those questions in the crush of quarterly results over the next few weeks. The mood from the first rash of reports has been generally upbeat as the world economy's best performance in a decade keeps sales humming.

But today's disastrous numbers from General Electric Co. show there are plenty of clunkers out there. Investors will also be looking to Apple Inc. to ease concerns about the iPhone 8. And they will also get the first indications from Amazon.com Inc. on how its $13.7-billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market is shaping up.

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Here's what to look for in the coming weeks:

Hurricanes, Trump and world politics

North American hurricanes and European rains have already taken a toll on consumer-products giants Nestle SA and Unilever, which reported weak sales this week. The weather is blamed for further undermining tepid consumer demand for big brands. Procter & Gamble Co. cited the storms as well when it posted sluggish sales this morning. U.S. insurers, automakers, hospitals and other companies also may take a hit.

Brexit, North Korean missile tests and President Donald Trump's combative tweets have generated their own storms. But the global economy has remained resilient through geopolitical upheaval. Companies appear to have adopted a successful strategy in coping with the turbulence: ignore it.

"Globally, the macroeconomic situation is a very solid backdrop for corporate profits," said Sean Taylor, chief investment officer for the Asia Pacific region at Deutsche Asset Management, which oversees about $840 billion globally.

How is China doing?

The outlook for the world's second-biggest economy seems to be picking up as worries about a sharp slowdown next year fade. Investors will be hoping that executives are seeing an improvement on the ground too. Daimler AG and Volvo AB, the world's biggest makers of commercial vehicles, reported robust profit gains Friday, in part on demand from China.

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Look for China to also help lift Toyota Motor Corp.'s profits, while Fast Retailing Co., the Japanese company that owns the Uniqlo casual clothing chain, forecasts a 20-per-cent jump in earnings as it adds more stores in China and other markets.

Chinese tech giants Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., meanwhile, are projected to post quarterly profit growth of at least 45 per cent.

Will there be opportunities for activist investors?

Growth has stalled across much of the U.S. consumer-product and restaurant landscape, giving opportunities for activists to shake up management and cut costs. Billionaire Nelson Peltz, for instance, launched an unsuccessful campaign for a seat on P&G's board in recent months.

Mr. Peltz has also targeted GE, whose shares plunged the most in two years after Friday morning's dismal numbers. His firm, Trian Fund Management, added one of its partners to the company's board this month, and may now be emboldened further to push for fast change.

Will the recovery continue for oil companies?

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Oil shares have fallen this year, yet producers have the wind at their backs as crude prices hold over $50 a barrel. PetroChina Co.'s net income is expected to have surged more than fourfold, based on analysts' estimates. The major U.S. producers, from Exxon Mobil Corp. to Anadarko Petroleum Corp., are expected to post higher earnings, too.

Investors will be looking for any shift in how much they expect to pump in 2018. A decline could help balance a market grappling with oversupply, but it could also stoke fears that U.S. shale production is running into technical problems.

How is Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods going?

This will be Amazon's first quarter that includes results from the Whole Foods takeover, a deal that shook the U.S. grocery industry and rippled into Europe. It's still not exactly clear what Amazon's strategy is for the organic-good chain, so investors will be listening closely to its earnings discussion on Oct. 26.

Still, the bigger story remains the company's cloud-computing business, Amazon Web Services, and the outsized contribution it's making to profits.

And what about the rest of Big Tech?

Apple will provide two important indicators of how demand is shaping up for its new iPhones when it reports Nov. 2.

The results will include initial sales of the iPhone 8 -- released Sept. 22, eight days before the quarter ended. The company also will provide revenue projections for the holiday period, which will include almost two months of sales for the top-of-the-line iPhone X.

While early numbers might indicate tepid demand for the iPhone 8, analysts have speculated that consumers are waiting to buy the higher-end X.

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