A busy week awaits as Wall Streeters gear up for one last preholiday push.
The action should come fast and furious, with retail sales figures kicking off Monday morning and a
event grabbing traders' attention Tuesday. Sprinkle in some big-name earnings and a week-ending round of crucial economic data, and you've got the makings of a closely watched, volatile week.
"Friday will be the last day of the year for a lot of people," says Bob Basel, head of stock trading at Smith Barney. "It's also a quadruple witching day for the options market and a big S&P rebalancing day, so it should be eventful late in the week."
But you won't have to wait that long for the market to gear up. November retail sales figures are due before the opening bell Monday. Wall Street could easily key off the retail report, as it will provide the final pre-Christmas glimpse into consumer spending. Analysts project sales will rise 0.2%.
"The holiday season got off to a flying start on Black Friday, but it seems to have fizzled out," says Russ Koesterich, U.S. equity strategist for State Street. "That means we really have to focus on the consumer this year, far more than other years."
All eyes will shift from the all-mighty consumer to the all-mighty Alan -- Greenspan, that is -- on Tuesday as the Federal Open Market Committee meets to discuss a possible fed funds rate hike. Economists at Miller Tabak say the markets expect a 25-basis-point hike to 2.25%.
Paul Nolte, market strategist for Hinsdale Associates, says traders will take note of the Fed's comments. "If they come out with a carbon copy of last meeting's minutes, then they are definitely setting the Street up for a series of more rate hikes," says Nolte.
The Fed's comments should also shed light on the notion of any inflationary threat to the economy. Inflation on the wholesale level jumped in November, following a spike in October as the producer price index rose 0.5%. Excluding food and energy costs, however, prices rose in line with expectations. Energy costs rose 1.8%, led by natural gas prices, which jumped 6.2%.
The PPI is up 5% in the past 12 months, yet higher prices for manufacturers have yet to be seen at the consumer level. That could change on Friday, as the consumer price index for November is released before the market opens. The consensus estimate is for a 0.2% rise in both the CPI and core CPI, which excludes food and energy prices.
"The PPI is obviously showing that materials prices are rising, and sooner or later corporations are going to have to pass those higher costs on to consumers," says Hinsdale's Nolte. "The core CPI will be important to see if companies' margins are getting squeezed because they are afraid to pass on those higher production costs."
The coming week will also have a few notable earnings reports sprinkled into the preholiday mix. With the holiday shopping season coming under the microscope, investors will be keeping an eye on numbers at mass-market retailers like
Bed Bath and Beyond
, both of which are due to post earnings Wednesday.
A pair of major investment banks will then turn the mirror on themselves, as
reports on Wednesday, followed by
Thursday. Also posting Thursday after the bell will be everyone's favorite takeover battler, software giant
Finally, St. Nick will be watching to see how one of his chief competitors is weathering the holiday season as
reports quarterly results on Thursday.