Skip to main content

Next week will be light on data and high on expectations for President-elect Barack Obama, as the nation grapples with economic gloom, turbulent financial markets and a huge transition in leadership.

Investors are coming off a week in which they soaked up the election results and were barraged with reports of gloomy retail sales, surging unemployment, weak earnings and predictions for more rough times ahead.

A trade-balance report on Thursday will provide incremental evidence of how the export sector has held up with the dollar's rally and widespread economic declines across the globe. But by and large, the week is far less data intensive. Instead, investors are keeping their eyes peeled for more details from


on how he plans to confront the economic crisis once he takes office in January.

The past week was about how bad things are, says Alan Gayle, senior investment strategist for RidgeWorth Capital Management. The coming week is about what are we going to do about it, he says.

"It will shift from what has been a very challenging week for economic data toward the fiscal- and economic-policy response," Gayle says.

Late this week, Sen. Obama (D., Ill.) appointed Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.), a former investment banker, to be his chief of staff and met with his top


advisers. Obama's Transition Economic Advisory Board is staffed with experienced corporate and government leaders, including

Berkshire Hathaway


CEO Warren Buffett,



CEO Eric Schmidt,

Time Warner


Chairman Dick Parsons and



CEO Anne Mulcahy. It also includes former Treasury secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers; ex-

Federal Reserve

Chairman Paul Volcker; former

Securities and Exchange Commission

heads William Donaldson and Roel Campos; ex- Commerce Secretary William Daley; and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

After meeting with his team on Friday, Obama promised that "immediately after I become President, I will confront this economic crisis head-on by taking all necessary steps to ease the credit crisis, help hardworking families and restore growth and prosperity."

One of Obama's first goals is to choose a Treasury secretary to collaborate with Henry Paulson, who currently holds that title, to take over the reins of the massive Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, approved by Congress last month. The reported favorites for that role are Summers, who held the position under President Bill Clinton, and Timothy Geithner, current president of the New York Fed. For his part, Paulson has promised "a smooth and effective transition" to ensure that "the incoming team can hit the ground running in January."

Indeed, Wall Street is hoping for a seamless transition between two starkly different administrations, as well as a coherent strategy to confront a plethora of economic issues. While energy prices have come down significantly, consumers are grappling with job cuts, foreclosures and declining household wealth as home values have plunged and investments have lost significant value. With fewer bucks in the bank and holidays on the horizon, Gayle expects a short-term economic


package to be unveiled under the current Congress, before a broader stimulus package is approved next year.

Such a deal might be similar to the $42 billion worth of consumer tax rebates the government approved in February. While the move was widely panned as ineffective to support the economy on a long-term basis, it helped struggling consumers make ends meet as prices surged for gasoline and food. It also propped up retail sales last quarter, helping the economy avoid a major decline in output.

There are also suggestions that struggling U.S. automakers








may be granted access to low-cost government loans. On Friday,


reported a $2.5 billion third-quarter loss and warned that it may run out of money next year unless the government steps in with assistance. Major automakers are important players in corporate America, and their potential failure would drastically hurt investor confidence, particularly for debt holders, says Edward Maraccini, portfolio manager of Optique Capital Management.

"If Ford were to go under on an equity basis, it's a nonfactor; I don't know what GM's market cap is anymore -- it's meaningless," says Maraccini. "But after what happened when


collapsed, there will be far-reaching impacts on everyone that has debt in their portfolios ...

Debt holders all took hits, and a lot of them will have Ford and GM and Chrysler."

On Friday, Obama expressed sympathy for automakers, without promising any additional help, saying he'd "like to see the administration do everything they can to accelerate the retooling assistance that Congress has already enacted."

Obama will have a full plate ahead of him, with calls to stabilize the

financial system

, help struggling consumers, rescue the troubled auto and manufacturing industries, and support the faltering housing market. It is unclear how he will handle the multipronged crisis, and Marc Groz, a hedge-fund manager at Topos LLC, says that uncertainty will continue to hurt stocks. Despite a pre-Election-Day rally, investors are holding out for tangible signs that the government's response will evoke an economic turnaround before delving back into the market full-force.

"It's all these news events and feared news events and people trying to guess how other people will respond to these things," says Groz, author of

Forbes Guide to the Markets

. "All of us are kind of at the mercy of these very hard-to-fathom political and economic forces."