Equities in the United States have been off to one of their hottest starts in years. Next week is the unofficial start of first quarter earnings, and will give investors the chance to see whether these outsized returns are rooted in sound fundamentals or are attributable to the market getting ahead of itself. Here are four stocks that will be put to the test.

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Test of Metal
The aluminum maker Alcoa (NYSE:AA) will kick of the first quarter earnings season after the market close on Tuesday, and expectations from Wall Street are not high. The consensus is that the company will lose 4 cents per share versus a net profit of 28 cents in the prior year quarter. Total revenue is expected to tick down by roughly 3.5%.

Alcoa is coming off of a rocky fourth quarter in which it experienced a weak pricing environment and restructuring charges. The long-term outlook is much more promising though as the company is expecting demand from China to put added pressure on the current global supply capacity for aluminum. Alcoa has forecasted a doubling of the world's demand for aluminum between 2010 and 2020.

On Thursday morning, the construction supply company Fastenal (Nasdaq:FAST) will check in with its quarterly results. There are great expectations for the company. Analysts are calling for around a 25% surge in earnings per share (EPS) on roughly a 19% pop in total revenue when compared to the year-ago quarter. Fastenal has seen its stock price surge about 23% since the beginning of the year.

SEE: Strategies For Quarterly Earnings Season

Blowing Away the Market
A couple of the biggest U.S. banks will be weighing in with their quarterly earnings results at the end of next week. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) is slated to go before the opening bell on Friday. Analysts are predicting that the company will report around a 10% decline in first quarter EPS and roughly a 5% drop in total revenue.

The big banks have been among the largest percentage gainers in terms of stock price appreciation this year. JPMorgan has seen its common shares rise approximately 36% so far this year. There is still a degree of uncertainty in the financial markets due to European sovereign debt problems, but large cap U.S. banks have done a tremendous job of shoring up their balances sheets in recent quarters and JPMorgan is no exception.

Competitor Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) will also announce the results of its first quarter on Friday morning. The consensus is that the company will report about a 7% gain on EPS on revenue that was nearly flat. Shares of Wells Fargo have risen around 25% year to date.

The Bottom Line
These earnings results will either reinforce the legitimacy of the run we have seen in equities or give investors a dose of reality. The improvement that the banks have seen in their stock prices is certainly warranted after the sector was unjustly beaten down last year. Fastenal will probably continue to impress and Alcoa will hopefully take steps to regain some of the market value it has shed over the past 10 years.

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At the time of writing, Billy Fisher did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

Tickers in this Article: AA, FAST, JPM, WFC

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