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Coming Week: Visions of Santa

Very few creatures will be stirring on Wall Street in the coming week, but a handful of economic releases and hopes of a Santa Claus rally will garner some attention.

"There's nothing really to sink your teeth into next week, except for the possibility of a Santa Claus rally," says Larry Wachtel, market strategist for Wachovia Securities.

The so-called Santa Claus rally is a jump in the price of stocks that often occurs in the week between Christmas and New Year's. There are numerous explanations for this phenomenon, including bonus dollars being put to work, overall cheerfulness around Wall Street, and a general lack of sellers.

Stock and bond markets will be closed Monday for the Christmas holiday.

One potential byproduct of a low volume, holiday-shortened week on Wall Street is stock prices getting carried away in a burst of momentum trading. Traders say investors shouldn't read moves too deeply should a small Santa Claus rally snowball into something bigger.

"Volume should be very light next week, with a lot of portfolio managers and traders out on vacation," says Brian Williamson, equity trader at Boston Company Asset Management. "But less liquidity also tends to exaggerate moves in either direction, so retail investors should be cautious."

Whether or not Santa's market movement appears, Wall Street watchers can chew on monthly economic numbers. Lord Abbett economist Milton Ezrati, for one, expects the data will show a lot of strength because of post-Katrina rebuilding activity that boosted spending.

"To the extent the market is not aware of it, the market is going to look particularly strong," says Ezrati. "There will be disappointing news in the near future once the Katrina boost abates, just not next week."

On Wednesday, the Conference Board will release its consumer confidence reading for December. Economists project the confidence index will rise to 102 from 98.9 the prior month.

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