NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Investors hoping that the government's December employment report would give a greater sense of direction were disappointed on Friday. The month's job growth fell short, and although the unemployment rate fell to a much better-than-expected level of 9.4%, there's a feeling that this improvement has a cosmetic quality, reflecting people who stop looking for a job more than anything else. So although the Dow has now risen in six straight weeks, investors may get restless if next week's data and the beginning trickle of fourth-quarter reports don't cooperate. On Friday the Labor Department said nonfarm payrolls rose by 103,000 in December from November's upwardly revised level of 71,000, missing Wall Street's expectations for job growth of 150,000. Estimates ranged from 98,000 to 225,000 as a surprisingly bullish report from Automatic Data Processing on Wednesday showed private-sector job growth of 297,000, setting a high bar for Friday's report. "The strong increase in the household survey was accompanied by a big drop in the labor force, down 260,000 in December -- the third consecutive monthly drop in the civilian labor force," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC, pointing to the household employment survey's increase of 297,000, which matched the ADP number. "These opposing forces allowed the unemployment rate to sink to 9.4% for the month." > > Bull or Bear? Vote in Our Poll The coming week promises a range of data including reads on December production, retail sales, inflationary pressures and an initial look at January consumer sentiment. "Jobs data is the single most important statistic that investors have their eyes on now since it remains a key measure of the temperature of an economic recovery," said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Investors. "Friday's job number is going to be augmented by next week's data before investors draw any firm conclusions about what happens next. The beginning of earnings season will help that, too." Alcoa's ( AA) report, which marks the unofficial start to earnings season as the first Dow component to disclose its numbers, is scheduled for after Monday's closing bell. Analysts are anticipating earnings of 19 cents a share, up from a profit of 1 cent a share a year ago, according to Briefing.com.
Homebuilder Lennar ( LEN) and supermarket operator Supervalu ( SVU), which was
recently downgraded to underweight by Morgan Stanley , will report ahead of Tuesday's opening bell. Lennar is slated to post a profit of 2 cents a share, and Supervalu is expected to see earnings of 32 cents a share. Intel ( INTC) will be the focus on Thursday with the company projected to report earnings of 53 cents a share after the closing bell. On Friday, JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) is expected to post a profit of 99 cents a share, according to Briefing.com. Creatura said corporate guidance and outlook comments will be the main draw for the market. "Investors have an idea of what happened in the past. The road ahead is a bit foggy and investors will be looking to see if there are any changes in the pace that the economy appears to be crawling to its feet," he said. "Earnings season is one of the few moments when the people piloting our economy get to talk about their forecasts for the year." On the data front, reports don't start rolling in until Tuesday morning with the Commerce Department's wholesale inventories report for November. Economists are anticipating an increase of 1.3% after growth of 1.9% in October, according to Briefing.com. Wednesday's session brings the monthly budget report from the U.S. Treasury in addition to December export and import price data. The real focus, however, is likely to be the Federal Reserve's Beige Book at 2 p.m. EST. This report on economic conditions based on anecdotal evidence across the Fed's 12 districts will be used as a reference at the Federal Open Market Committee's next monetary policy meeting on Jan. 25-26. On Thursday, the Labor Department will issue the December producer price index at 8:30 a.m. EST. The market is expecting a 0.7% uptick after growth of 0.8% in November while the core rate is slated to inch 0.2% higher after rising 0.3%. At the same time, economists expect the Commerce Department to report that the trade deficit widened to $40.6 billion in November from $38.7 billion previously. Thursday also brings the Labor Department's usual release on weekly initial jobless claims. Wall Street is anticipating an increase to 420,000 during the week ended Jan. 8 from the prior week's level of 409,000.
Friday's session will be a busy one beginning with December inflation data from the Labor Department. According to Briefing.com, economists expect the consumer price index to grow 0.4%, after rising 0.1% in November. The core rate, which excludes volatile food and energy costs and is considered the most accurate read on inflation, is forecast to climb 0.1% after an identical uptick in November. At the same time, the Commerce Department will issue its December retail sales report. Economists are calling for growth of 0.7% on the heels of November's rose of 0.8%. Excluding autos, sales are forecast to push 0.6% higher, after a jump of 1.2% in November. At 9:15 a.m. EST, Wall Street expects the Federal Reserve to report a 0.4% increase in industrial production in December, mirroring November's growth, while capacity utilization is expected to come in at 75.5%, from 75.2%. Just ahead of 10 a.m. EST, the University of Michigan will issue its preliminary read on January consumer sentiment. According to Briefing.com, the market expects a reading of 75, up from 74.5 in December. Rounding out the week's releases, the Commerce Department will report on November business inventories at 10 a.m. EST. Economists are anticipating growth of 0.7% compared with similar growth in October. -- Written by Melinda Peer in New York.