Monday's third-quarter report from Alcoa ( AA) marks the unofficial start to earnings season, but traders say they will be more intent on watching inflation data in the coming week. "There has been a change in the landscape of the equity market where the bulls are losing control and the new focus for investors is the 'I word' -- inflation," says Randy Diamond, a sales trader at Miller Tabak. "The Fed members are constantly reminding the markets that we can run but we cannot hide from higher interest rates, which are on the way." Bond markets and banks will be closed on Monday because of the Columbus Day holiday. Nevertheless, traders will get more insight into what the Fed was thinking regarding inflation, surging energy prices and the effects of Katrina on Tuesday, when the Federal Open Market Committee releases the minutes from its September meeting. On Thursday, import and export prices for September will add some color to the inflation picture. But according to Wachovia economist Jason Schenker, the impact may be diminished because those numbers might not fully capture the impact of Katrina. More telling, says Schenker, will be the trade balance for August, which will be released on Thursday morning. Economists expect the trade deficit to widen to $59.3 billion from $57.9 billion in July. "If you get a substantial widening, then it could weigh heavily on the dollar, which would be a negative sign for the economy," says Schenker. Later in the day, the Treasury budget for September will be reported. In this case the market expects a surplus of $37 billion, up from $24.6 billion in August. Friday will be the big day on the inflation front, when the consumer price index for September is reported. Economists are predicting the CPI to rise 0.9%, up from 0.5% in August. The core CPI, which strips out energy and food costs, is expected to add 0.2%, up from 0.1% the month before.
"The CPI will be the first chance -- post-Katrina -- to see how much damage the runup in consumer energy prices has done in terms of inflation," says Wachovia's Schenker. "There's no doubt that it's a big number." Aside from the CPI, Friday's data deluge also includes September retail sales figures, capacity utilization, business inventories and industrial production.
warned last month of second-half weakness. On Tuesday the earnings lineup includes the likes of Advanced Micro Devices ( AMD), Sycamore Networks ( SCMR) and Gannett ( GCI). On schedule to report on Wednesday are Apollo Group ( APOL), Monsanto ( MON) and Host Marriott ( HMT). Harley-Davidson ( HDI) will also take the stage on Wednesday. Analysts are expecting the company to earn 90 cents a share, up from 77 cents last year, on revenue of $1.43 billion. Thursday has a pair of banks on the docket, Commerce Bancshares ( CBSH) and Republic Bancorp ( RBNC), as well as publisher Tribune ( TRB). The big market mover on Friday will be General Electric ( GE), which reports before the bell. Analyst consensus for the conglomerate is a profit of 44 cents a share, up from 38 cents last year, on $41.1 billion in revenue.