Thank you, Mr. Bernanke -- may we have another?
That's what the markets are saying after the
75 basis-point cut in its target federal funds rate this past week. Wall Street is looking for more from the Fed, which meets this Tuesday and Wednesday.
Just how much more the central bank is willing to give remains to be seen, though a near-consensus has been reached that there will be some further reduction in the rate. Most observers seem to be looking for another half-point.
"I think they'll do 50," says James Glassman, senior economist at JPMorgan Chase. "Having gone this route" of making the 75 basis-point cut this past week, "there's good reason to believe they've decided to be decisive."
The thinking goes that another half-point easing would catch the Fed up with what markets are expecting and pump enough liquidity and borrowing power into the system to bring the economy back on track. While conditions have been changing rapidly and more data could change the situation, a cut of that size could give policymakers a little breathing room to sit back and assess the situation without having to think about another cut right away.
"If they do 50, they may want to imply that they have a lot of stimulus in place" in the accompanying policy statement "and let it play out for a while," Glassman says.
However, a sizable minority is betting on a 25-basis-point cut, according to Charles Rotblut, senior market analyst at Zacks Investment Research.
"If they do 25, it would be a disappointment" to the markets, Glassman says. "They'd have to leave options open" for more cuts in the near future.
On the other side of the coin, the futures market indicates that a few daring souls are looking for another three-quarter-point drop. "The argument for 75 is, things aren't that bad now, let's accelerate the economy while we can and not wait too long," Rotblut says. "I don't know if we have enough data to support cutting rates by 75."
In general, he says, "people just want to see a willingness for the Fed to continue to act and provide whatever stimulus is needed."
Even though the Fed will be the main focus of the week, there's a lot going on around it -- not least with the stock market, which has been gyrating wildly amid fears of recession, and as news continues to roll out about problems at financial firms and in the credit markets.
"Stocks are seeking equilibrium. They were grossly oversold" at the beginning of last week, says James Manfredonia, head of cash trading at Bear Stearns. "I expect many names to move sideways as people decide what the next quarter or two will bring. People will start to focus on the back end of the year" as well as on interest rates and the economic-stimulus package being offered by Congress.
If next week ends higher "and we see some more follow-through buying, that could go a long way toward helping psychology," Rotblut says.
Last week, which was shortened due to a holiday on Monday, saw the
Dow Jones Industrial Average
gain 0.9%, the
fall 0.6% and the
Market watchers are also likely to continue parsing the developments at French bank Société Générale, which said a few days ago that a rogue trader had cost the institution about $7.2 billion by making giant, unauthorized trades.
On the economic-data front, job metrics are taking center stage. The ADP employment report comes out Wednesday, and then Friday the government's nonfarm payrolls and unemployment-rate data will be released.
With so much focus on whether the economy will fall into recession, "the jobs report is critical," says Alan Gayle, senior investment strategist at Trusco Capital Management. "There is expectation that the economy is continuing to add a modest number of jobs."
But, he cautions, "we're so close to zero on a lot of these numbers that we could see a lot of market volatility from them" because while the difference between a few thousand jobs up or down may not be significant on its own, the market's perception of the number changes drastically if it's positive as opposed to negative.
On the earnings front, attention is shifting away from the beleaguered financials, which tend to report during the earlier part of each profit season, so the picture could improve.
"If we continue to get good earnings news, we could continue this rebound" in the stock markets, Rotblut says.
A number of Dow components will be reporting this week, including
Procter & Gamble
The blue-chips have benefitted in recent months from strong global growth and the weak dollar, even as the U.S. economy has been sluggish, so their performances could offer clues as to whether the bullish international picture is still intact.
The consumer, which represents about two-thirds of the spending in the U.S. economy, will be in focus.
report Thursday, with airlines
reporting on Tuesday and
Midwest Express Holdings
on Thursday. Auto-sales data on Friday and a Tuesday Conference Board update on consumer confidence will add to the flood of information.
Also, several tech bellwethers report, with
on Wednesday and
Thursday. With the tech-heavy Nasdaq having gotten pounded so much in recent days, investors are likely to be looking to these three giants for their take on where the entire tech sector is headed over the rest of the year.