Very few creatures will be stirring on Wall Street in the coming week, but a handful of economic releases and hopes of a Santa Claus rally will garner some attention.

"There's nothing really to sink your teeth into next week, except for the possibility of a Santa Claus rally," says Larry Wachtel, market strategist for Wachovia Securities.

The so-called Santa Claus rally is a jump in the price of stocks that often occurs in the week between Christmas and New Year's. There are numerous explanations for this phenomenon, including bonus dollars being put to work, overall cheerfulness around Wall Street, and a general lack of sellers.

Stock and bond markets will be closed Monday for the Christmas holiday.

One potential byproduct of a low volume, holiday-shortened week on Wall Street is stock prices getting carried away in a burst of momentum trading. Traders say investors shouldn't read moves too deeply should a small Santa Claus rally snowball into something bigger.

"Volume should be very light next week, with a lot of portfolio managers and traders out on vacation," says Brian Williamson, equity trader at Boston Company Asset Management. "But less liquidity also tends to exaggerate moves in either direction, so retail investors should be cautious."

Whether or not Santa's market movement appears, Wall Street watchers can chew on monthly economic numbers. Lord Abbett economist Milton Ezrati, for one, expects the data will show a lot of strength because of post-Katrina rebuilding activity that boosted spending.

"To the extent the market is not aware of it, the market is going to look particularly strong," says Ezrati. "There will be disappointing news in the near future once the Katrina boost abates, just not next week."

On Wednesday, the Conference Board will release its consumer confidence reading for December. Economists project the confidence index will rise to 102 from 98.9 the prior month.

"We expect a big jump in consumer confidence now that the effects of Katrina and higher gas prices are further behind us," says Mark Vitner, economist at Wachovia. "Higher confidence will lead to a better-than-expected holiday shopping season as well."

The bulk of the economic releases arrive on Thursday, starting with initial jobless claims for the week ended Dec. 24 before the bell. Initial jobless claims measure the number of filings for state jobless benefits.

Chicago PMI for December will be released on Thursday. Economists surveyed are looking for a reading of 60, down from 61.7 in November.

Existing-home sales also will be released Thursday. Economists expect a sales decline to an annual rate of 7 million units in November from 7.09 million in October. The market will be closely watching the number after Friday's report that new-home sales for November tumbled a steeper-than-expected 11.3% from the prior month.

"The continued flattening of the yield curve in the face of the slowing housing market is very interesting, and it may present a bigger problem for Bernanke's Fed than he expects," says Randy Diamond, sales trader at Miller Tabak.

"That said, I expect the markets to trend higher next week on light volume as traders and investors cast their eyes to 2006," he adds.

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