Markets could be in for choppy trading this week, with options expiring and a slew of earnings and economic reports coming due. Stocks rose last week while ignoring bad news, as the Nasdaq hit a six-month high on the same day that the Federal Reserve expressed concern over the economic recovery. For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 21.9 points, while the Nasdaq was up 17.27 points, or more than 1%. The S&P 500 was up 3.33 points. The optimism extended a nearly two-month winning streak for stocks, which began on March 12, when America's timetable on the war with Iraq became clear. Over that two-month span, the Dow jumped more than 14%, the Nasdaq gained about 19% and the S&P 500 rose nearly 16%. Investors hope the trend will continue this week. "As we've seen in other months, as you get further into the week, the market can do strange things when options expire. There could be more volatility and volume all week long -- you know people don't wait until Friday to make moves," said Dennis Jarrett, chief market analyst at Jarrett Investment Research. "You could get bigger moves on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday." While the expiration of options -- a double witching -- adds an interesting wrinkle to next week's action, all eyes will be on economic data to see if 2003 will feature the second-half recovery that never showed up in 2000, 2001 or 2002. Expect much chatter about the strength of the consumer, with a good look at retail sales during the month of April, after the decisive victory in Iraq. The first look at retail sales comes before Tuesday's bell, courtesy of an earnings release from Wal-Mart ( WMT). Wal-Mart's position as the nation's largest retailer makes it a good barometer not only for the sector, but for the strength of the consumer and markets overall. On Wednesday, look for April retail sales, which economists think will rise 0.4%, down from March's jump of 2.1%.
Other retailers reporting results this week are J.C. Penney ( JCP) and May Department Stores ( MAY), as well as Target ( TGT) and Kohl's ( KSS). Mall staples Ann Taylor ( ANN), American Eagle Outfitters ( AEOS), Pacific Sunwear ( PSUN), Payless Shoes ( PSS) and Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF) also release reports. Among economic data, the University of Michigan's preliminary consumer sentiment number will come out at the end of the week, with economists expecting it to rise from April's 86 rating to 87.5 for the month of May. The market also will get another look at the inflation picture, with Thursday's release of the producer price index for April, which economists expect to fall by 0.5% after March's 1.5% gain. The following day features the release of the consumer price index for April, which is expected to drop 0.1% after March's 0.3% gain. If these economic numbers aren't disastrous, then the markets could move higher in the coming week, building on the solid momentum of weeks past. "There were a number of days when this market could have been down 2% this past week, and we weren't able to take it down. That suggests good internal strength," said Jarrett. "On strong days, volume has been good, and when there's profit-taking, volume shrinks. That's an ideal situation. This could be another good week. We're going with the flow. It's a case of 'don't stand in front of the locomotive' or the 'trend is your friend.' Whatever you want to call it, it bodes well for stocks." Meanwhile, a handful of technology companies are due to release earnings, including Dell ( DELL), Applied Materials ( AMAT), Network Appliances ( NTAP) and Analog Devices ( ADI). Also, media names Fox Entertainment ( FOX), News Corp. ( NWS) and Cablevision ( CYC) are due to release reports.