The markets have been rocky for the past few weeks as a series of staggering declines and impressive rallies have waged a fierce battle, but in the coming week, even with more big economic numbers and more earnings reports, some observers will be looking for the volatility to take a break. "The market is still reeling from the big numbers last week," said Stephen Stanley, a senior market economist at Greenwich Capital Markets. "This week will give the markets a chance to catch their breath and see where we stand." Following a promising start last week, the major averages were derailed by a string of disappointing economic numbers, including subdued gross domestic product and employment reports . Disappointing quarterly results from Disney ( DIS) also weighed on the market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished the week up 0.6%, and the S&P 500 managed a gain of 1.3%. The Nasdaq lost 1.1%. Investors will have more economic reports to parse this week, including fresh readings on how the American consumer is holding up. Along with the data, there are still some earnings to get through. Some of the bigger quarterly reports this week will come from Cisco ( CSCO), Procter & Gamble ( PG), El Paso ( EP) and Loews ( LTR).
The coming week might not match last week's intensity, but a few reports will be released that have the power to move stocks and bonds. On Thursday, the July producer price index will be released. Economists expect the index, a key measure of inflation, to increase 0.1%, the same as June. "There's no big story here because inflation remains nonthreatening," said Stan Shipley, a senior economist with Merrill Lynch. "But it's important because it means the Fed can do what it wants." On Friday, the University of Michigan's preliminary consumer sentiment survey for August will be released. "If this falls sharply again, you're raising the risk of a double-dip recession," Shipley said. Recent readings on consumer opinion have raised some worries about how spending and the economy will hold up in the coming months. The declines the stock market suffered in July rattled investors and contributed to lukewarm readings on consumer sentiment in the latter half of last month. Other data on the schedule include the weekly jobless claims number, monthly chain-store sales figures from the nation's retailers and the Institute for Supply Management's survey on the service sector of the economy. Along with the consumer sentiment survey, the retail sales numbers will offer some clues as to how household spending is holding up as the markets struggle. "If you're thinking about economic weakness and that the Fed will have to ease, you want to see what consumer spending is doing," Stanley said. "I don't see that the Fed will ease the rates if consumers are spending." The latest poll conducted by Reuters shows that most primary dealers, who work directly with the Federal Reserve in open market operations involving government securities, believe interest rates will stay where they are -- at the abnormally low level of 1.75% -- for the rest of the year. But two firms believe the U.S. central bank will cut rates further. On Friday, Goldman Sachs said it believes the Fed could slash rates an additional 75 basis points by the end of the year. Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein is also expecting rates to come down.
North and South
Some experts are looking for weak consumer spending numbers and believe the market might have declines in store. "The markets will consolidate, but at some point we'll have to test those lows again," said Greenwich's Stanley, referring to the troughs hit in late July. Merrill's Shipley agreed that the overall market might not be out of the woods yet. "The market is undervalued, but in the short term the sentiment is bearish and we could test the market lows," he said. Ron Napier of Napier Investment Advisors, a firm that advises institutional clients, believes consumer spending is likely to sink because wages have been under pressure. He points out that several years ago, wage income was increasing at a 5% to 7% annual rate. Now, not only is job growth disappointing -- the economy only added 6,000 jobs to nonfarm payrolls in July -- but the rate of wage growth has slowed. "It's not a question of consumer confidence, it's income," Napier said. "I don't think consumers have the income to keep spending." Some of the pessimism could fade, however, if more heads of large companies manage to sign off on their accounting statements, as regulators are now requiring. The chief executives and chief financial officers of around 950 large U.S. companies have until Aug. 14 to certify that their results are accurate and complete, but so far, only a handful of firms have complied with the mandate.