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) -- With companies entering their quiet periods just before earnings season, investors will be looking mainly to economic data for direction in the coming week.

Macroeconomic releases have been driving markets in the last few weeks as fears of a double-dip recession have ebbed, and investors now look for more confirmation of a slow but steady recovery.

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Lawrence Creatura of Federated Investors says investors are starved for information amid uncertainty, which has made them more sensitive to any economic data that flows into the markets. "We are looking at the screens for a sign of a pulse. Any blip, even if it is just modestly positive news, could provoke a strong reaction," said Lawrence Creatura of Federated Investors.

Stocks surged on Friday

after durable goods orders excluding the volatile transportation sector, jumped in August by the most in five months. The gains came even as new-home sales showed only a modest rise.

Benny Lorenzo, chairman and CEO of Kaufman Bros., says the bar for what is considered "positive economic news" has been lowered significantly, with markets pricing in a slowdown in the economy. That is a catalyst for equities in the near term, along with low equity valuations and rising M&A activity.

The M&A buzz grew louder on Friday after



hinted at an analyst meeting that it might look at taking over a chip company.

BHP Billiton


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also won approval from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to pursue its bid for



. All three stocks are likely to remain in the spotlight in the coming week.

The week also could see preannouncements from some tech and financial companies ahead of earnings season that could provide some direction for the markets.

Advanced Micro Devices


lowered its third-quarter revenue estimates on Friday, citing weak PC demand. But the market had already priced in the news after



lowered its guidance a few weeks earlier.

However, there haven't been too many preannouncements so far. "That is a positive. It means we can expect third-quarter earnings to be good," Lorenzo said.

Key economic data in the week ahead include the weekly jobless claims report on Thursday, GDP data also out on Thursday and the ISM manufacturing index on Friday.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor's will release the July S&P Case-Shiller Index, which tracks the changes in the value of residential real estate in 20 metropolitan regions across the U.S. The index is expected to see a year-on-year increase of 3.4% in August, according to consensus estimates from The index rose 4.2% in July from a year earlier.

Also on Tuesday, the Conference Board will release the results of its consumer confidence survey. Consumer confidence in September is expected to drop slightly to 52.9 from 53.5 a month earlier, according to estimates from

On Thursday, the Labor Department is expected to say that the number of people filing for unemployment claims for the first time dropped to 457,000 in the week ended Sept. 25, from 465,000 the week earlier, according to consensus estimates from Continuing claims are expected to drop slightly to 4.45 million from 4.48 million a week earlier.

The Commerce Department will report its third estimate for GDP growth in the second quarter. The U.S. economy is likely to have expanded 1.6% in the June quarter, according to consensus estimates. As a third estimate, it is not expected to have a big impact on the markets.

The more market-moving number could be the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index. Analysts expect the index to dip slightly to 56 in September from 56.7 in August. A reading of more than 50 usually indicates economic expansion.

A flurry of economic data will also greet the markets Friday morning. The Institute of Supply Management will release its manufacturing index. It is expected to drop to 54.5 in September from 56.3 in August. A reading of more than 50 indicates economic expansion.

The Commerce Department is likely to report a 0.5% drop in construction spending in August. Spending declined 1% in July.

The Commerce Department will also release personal income and spending data for August. Personal income is expected to rise 0.3% after increasing 0.2% in the previous month. Personal spending is also likely to keep pace and is expected to rise 0.3% after rising 0.4% the prior month.

Auto and truck manufacturers will release their sales numbers for September. The consensus is that they'll be largely unchanged, with auto sales at 3.8 million and truck sales at 4.9 million.







Lawson Software


are some of the notable earnings releases scheduled for the week.

--Written by Shanthi Venkataraman in New York

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Shanthi Venkataraman


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