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Coming Week: Earnings Flood

"If we get past the elections, earnings are OK and oil comes back down, then you have the makings for a fairly positive environment," Liro said. "But a lot of things have to fall into place."

Among the Dow components due to report next week are 3M (MMM) and IBM on Tuesday, General Motors (GM), J.P. Morgan (JPM) and Pfizer (PFE) on Wednesday, Citigroup (C) on Thursday and United Technologies (UTX) and General Electric (GE) on Friday.

Internet giants Yahoo! and eBay will report on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. Analysts expect Yahoo! to earn 11 cents a share compared with just 5 cents last year. eBay is projected to earn 34 cents a share, up from 22 cents last year.

While earnings will take the spotlight, a handful of economic reports also will be closely watched for any clues about the future path of interest rates.

Last week, St. Louis Fed President William Poole suggested that the Fed could drop its plan to raise rates at a "measured" pace at some point in the future. So far, the bank has been raising rates in quarter-point increments.

Atlanta Fed President Jack Guynn recently stressed that labor costs, energy and import prices all are rising, and hinted that the amount of slack in the economy might be overstated. Meanwhile, Boston Fed President Cathy Minehan said "economic growth could well tighten pressure on resources faster than I expect."

"These comments reveal that the Fed is comfortable with keeping rate hikes slow and steady for now, but it would not take much to tip the scales in favor of 50-basis-point moves," said Sherry Cooper, chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns.

Perhaps the most significant report on tap next week will be the consumer price index on Wednesday. Economists expect the index to climb 0.1%, with the core rate up 0.2%.

Housing starts and the Fed's beige book also are due out Wednesday, and the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators is scheduled for Thursday. The Philadelphia Fed survey and the Michigan consumer sentiment survey for early January will be released Friday.

The markets will be closed Monday in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

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