After a disappointing employment report for September, investors are hoping for damage control from corporate America next week.

But analysts say it will take some decidedly upbeat profit guidance, better economic news and a decline in oil prices to spark a sustainable rally in the stock market.

Some 37

S&P 500

companies are scheduled to post third-quarter results in the week ahead, three


components among them. Meanwhile, a handful of economic reports are due out, including retail sales and the producer price index for September.

All three major averages declined last week, as investors began to reassess the outlook for growth in the wake of a softer-than-expected labor market report and surging oil prices.

Nonfarm payrolls increased just 96,000 in September, below the estimate for 150,000 job gains, and crude oil futures jumped to more than $53 a barrel for the first time on record.

David Rosenberg, chief economist at Merrill Lynch, noted that more than 70% of the chief executives surveyed by the Business Council have projected that economic growth will fall to 2% or lower next year. "These guys actually produce GDP, all we do is forecast it," he said. "Are we really completely through the soft patch?"

Questions about the economy will continue to swirl next week, according to Peter Cardillo, chief market strategist at SW Bach & Co.

But the big reports won't be released until next Friday. Retail sales are slated to climb 0.6% after falling 0.3% in August, and the producer price index is expected to climb 0.1% after falling 0.1% in the prior month. A preliminary reading on consumer sentiment for October will also be released Friday, along with data on industrial production.

"The problem is that the economy is growing, but it's just not growing fast enough," Cardillo said.

Dave Briggs, head trader at Federated Investors, said the upside to last week's poor jobs data is that the

Federal Reserve

will probably be less aggressive in raising interest rates. The Central Bank is still expected to hike rates by a quarter-point in November but could pause after that. In addition, he said, the data suggest that profits will remain strong going forward, as companies remain focused on keeping costs low and productivity high.

So far, earnings for the third quarter -- including the 39 S&P 500 companies that have reported and estimates for the rest -- are up 13.6% from last year. That's down more than a full percentage point from last month's estimates and is well below the 20% growth seen over the previous four quarters. Still, it is almost twice the long-term average of 7%.

One of the most significant reports due out next week will come from Internet bellwether



on Tuesday. Analysts expect the company to earn 9 cents a share compared to just 4 cents last year.

On Wednesday,

Apple Computer

(AAPL) - Get Report

will chime in, and

Juniper Networks

(JNPR) - Get Report


Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Report

are on tap for Thursday.

Among Dow components,

Johnson & Johnson

(JNJ) - Get Report

is slated to report Tuesday, followed by

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report



(C) - Get Report

on Thursday.

"I'm seeing an economy that has slowed but is still growing and earnings that have slowed but are still OK," said Briggs. "I think that will be reinforced next week."

Briggs said he expects the market to remain choppy until the election on Nov. 2. Recent polls show a statistical dead heat between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, but a third and final debate on Wednesday could give one candidate an edge. Wall Street is generally viewed as having a strong bias toward the Republican candidate, who has cut taxes on stock dividends and capital gains.

"Whoever wins the race for the presidency is likely to inherit a difficult economic environment," said Goldman Sachs economist Bill Dudley.

Dudley is calling for 4.5% growth in the third quarter and 4% growth in the fourth but he believes the economy should slow down in 2005.

"The factory sector is no longer accelerating, consumer spending is on a slower track into the fourth quarter, and labor market improvement remains halting," he said.

U.S. Treasuries rose sharply Friday amid concerns about the economic outlook, and some analysts say those gains are likely to continue next week. Still, the bond market will be closed Monday in observation of Columbus Day.

"I don't think we're out of the woods yet," Briggs said. "I think October is going to be choppy."