Analysts expect the Conference Board's index, due Tuesday, to have risen to 93.5 from a prior reading of 90.5.

Dave Briggs, head trader at Federated Investors, said next week's jobless claims and the Conference Board's Help Wanted Index could also provide some direction ahead of the all-important employment report for December in the following week.

The Help Wanted Index, which is due for release on Thursday, can be a good harbinger of the national jobs report with a lag of two or three months. It is expected to hold steady at 37. The Chicago purchasing managers index, a regional manufacturing report, is also slated for release on Thursday and will be examined for clues about the national report due out Jan. 3.

Briggs said he thinks stocks can "waft upwards" next week but cautioned that investors will have to choose stocks carefully in 2005 to make any money.

"It's not going to be a smooth ride; there's definitely going to be at least one serious correction next year," he said.

A sharp pullback in the dollar and significant increase in energy prices or interest rates could potentially unhinge the market, Briggs said, adding that he is looking for a correction in February.

Most analysts are calling for small gains in the year ahead, though they disagree about which half of the year will be more constructive.

Morgan Stanley analyst Henry McVey said returns are likely to be capped in the last six months of the year, as inflation and interest rates move up in response to the weak dollar. "A falling dollar is good for growth near term, but nothing in macro comes free," he said.

Still, Bear Stearns strategist Francois Trahan is looking for a "cyclical bear phase" in the first half of the year and a move higher later on.

"Midway through 2005, once the Fed has completed its tightening cycle or the market begins to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we would expect to see the start of an impressive second-half rally," he said.

With New Year's Day falling on a Saturday this year, the stock market will be open for business as usual on Friday, though the bond market will close early at 2 p.m. EST.

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