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After a three-week rally that has pushed the major averages up 8%, traders and analysts say they wouldn't be surprised to see a pause in the coming week.

But the direction of the market depends heavily on the price of oil and a flurry of earnings from the retail sector.

If energy prices continue to decline and retailers offer positive comments about the upcoming holiday period, stocks could certainly build on recent gains.

"We may see a little backing and filling," said Joe Liro, equity strategist at Stone & McCarthy Research. "But I think this rally still has legs."

Crude oil prices have fallen 15% since hitting a high of more than $55 a barrel on Oct. 25, as U.S. stockpiles have increased and temperatures have been warmer than usual so far.

The decline in oil, along with a much stronger-than-expected employment report for October, has given investors hope that consumer spending will hold up well over the next few months.


S&P 500

ended up 1.5% last week at 1184, its highest close in more than three years. The


finished up 1.5% for the week at 10,539, while the


gained 2.3% at 2085.

Still, the stock market and economy aren't out of the woods just yet. If this winter proves to be colder than expected, analysts say, heating oil prices could shoot up. And supply disruptions in Nigeria, Russia and Iraq are still possible.

Meanwhile, many economists say that nonfarm payrolls in October were boosted by cleanup efforts after four hurricanes, and that employment in November won't be as strong. Nevertheless, retailers are probably more optimistic about the fourth quarter today than they were a month ago.

The most influential company to report results will be

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on Tuesday. The retailing giant has predicted that third-quarter earnings would hit the high end of its 52-cent to 54-cent-a-share range thanks to a change in the firm's tax rate. Same-store sales for November are slated to rise 2% to 4%.

Of course, shares of Wal-Mart have climbed 9% since Oct. 25, so any good news may already been priced in.

Other retailers scheduled to release results include

Home Depot

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J.C. Penney

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on Tuesday.

Barnes & Noble

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Limited Brands



Gap Inc.

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are due out Thursday.

In October, retail sales rose a healthy 0.6%, when autos, gasoline and food are excluded. But the headline number rose just 0.2%, a sharp decline from the 1.6% increase reported in the prior month.

Investors will also be focusing on a couple of bellwether technology earnings in the week ahead.


(HPQ) - Get HP Inc. Report

is projected to earn 37 cents a share on Tuesday while

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Applied Materials, Inc. Report

is expected to post a profit of 26 cents a share on Wednesday.

Last week,


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said revenue would grow just 1% to 3% in the current fiscal quarter, below analysts' 3.6% estimate. That news sent the stock down more than 6% and pressured the Nasdaq, at least on Wednesday. Still, shares of


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broke out to four-year highs Friday after saying revenue would hit $60 billion in fiscal 2006, a year ahead of schedule.

"We've been up for three weeks, but we've gotten over a lot of hurdles," said Larry Wachtel, chief market analyst at Prudential Financial. "I don't see anything of a blockbuster nature next week" that could seriously disrupt the rally.

Aside from a batch of corporate earnings, a number of speeches by various Fed officials could have some impact on the market. In addition, Fed Chief Alan Greenspan is expected to take part in a "Euro in Wider Circles" panel discussion in Frankfurt on Friday.

The producer price index is due out Tuesday followed by the consumer price index Wednesday. Economists expect the PPI to climb 0.5%, or 0.1% excluding food and energy. The CPI is seen rising 0.4%, with the core rate inching up 0.1%.

High energy prices have forced more companies to raise prices recently. Both


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announced price hikes in an effort to offset high raw material costs.

Housing starts and data on industrial production are also on tap for Wednesday, and Thursday will bring weekly unemployment claims, the Conference Board's leading economic indicators and a manufacturing survey by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve.