The coming week may be holiday-shortened, but it is jam-packed with earnings and economic data. "What's the most important bit of information next week? All of it!" says Robert Pavlik, chief investment officer at Oaktree Asset Management. The fourth-quarter earnings reporting season will begin to heat up, with some of the biggest companies in the S&P 500 releasing their results and perhaps providing a peek at 2007 expectations. Elsewhere, speeches by several top Federal Reserve members may provide clues into their interest rate-thinking and ease recent market uncertainty. The government's consumer price and producer price index reports, meanwhile, will directly speak to inflation. The manufacturing slowdown will be addressed by regional manufacturing reports, as well as industrial production and capacity utilization releases. And housing-start and building-permit figures will shed light on the status of the troubled housing market. "There are no bears in the forest right now, so next week's data will either let the bulls push through the top and squeeze the shorts out of their minds and money, or it will give the bears some confidence to start a correction," says Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial.
The biggest name will be after the market closes, when Dow component Intel ( INTC) reports. According to Thomson First Call, analysts expect the chip giant to post fourth-quarter earnings of 25 cents a share, down from 40 cents a year ago, on revenue of $9.45 billion. Intel's own projections called for revenue of $9.1 billion to $9.7 billion. Wednesday's highlights include releases from Lennar ( LEN), Southwest Airlines ( LUV) and Washington Mutual ( WM). Apple ( AAPL), fresh off news of its pending iPhone, is on tap to report earnings Wednesday afternoon. Analysts are looking for the tech giant to post a profit of 78 cents a share, up from 65 cents last year, and sales of $6.42 billion. Among some of the notable names on Thursday's earnings docket are Continental Airlines ( CAL), Merrill Lynch ( MER) and UnitedHealth ( UNH). Friday will see three heavy hitters step to the plate: GE ( GE), Citigroup ( C) and Motorola ( MOT). GE recently backed its projections for 2006, while cellphone giant Motorola warned earlier this month.