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Coming Week: Another Rate Cut?

While stocks have improved from their late-November lows, the economy has continued to worsen, and experts say it's tough to predict how much of the negativity is priced into the market.

But savvy investors may be able to come out ahead next week by burrowing deep within troubling economic data to gain insight on how long the downturn will last and which companies stand to be the winners and losers of the recession that began one year ago.

Abysmal employment reports have been unveiled in the past couple of weeks, showing surging unemployment and spiking jobless claims. On top of that, Bank of America (BAC) announced major layoffs, while companies like Sara Lee (SLE) and Stanley Works (SWK) revealed smaller cuts and Yahoo! (YHOO) started implementing previously announced layoffs.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the producer price index, which tracks the cost of goods before they reach consumers, fell 2.2% in November, a continuation of deflationary trends that started to take shape in the fall. The decline was a bit more than the 2% drop economists had expected. Meanwhile, a trade report indicated that consumer cutbacks and the slowing global economy have hurt shipments of goods from both the U.S. and abroad.

Next week has two major events on the economic calendar that stand to drive the market, both of which fall on Tuesday: The change in consumer prices last month and the Federal Reserve's policy statement.

The market expects price declines to have trickled down to consumers, with predictions that the consumer price index dropped 1.3% in November and that core prices rose a mere 0.1%. The futures market is also betting that the Fed will slash its key interest-rate target by half a percentage point in an effort to stimulate the slumping economy.

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