NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- So now it seems sentiment is starting to shift away from asking if the Federal Reserve will unleash additional stimulus to trying to pin down when. But maybe the bigger question is what can investors reasonably expect more action from the Fed to accomplish? With the yield on the 10-year Treasury hovering right around historic lows, it's not like the central bank can do much to lessen the attractiveness of bonds and encourage investors to take more risk. They clearly don't want to go that route in a world where the U.S. economy is limping along, the future of the eurozone is in doubt and growth in China is slowing. Paul Dales, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economic, weighed in on what the Fed does next in commentary released on Wednesday, putting the odds of QE3 arriving by the end of 2012 at 50/50. He doubts the Fed will take action at its policy meeting next week but acknowledges the trend in the data is worrisome to point in that direction. "It is pretty clear that the economic recovery looks more fragile now than it did last month," he said. "Since the previous FOMC meeting it has emerged that non-farm payroll employment rose by less than 100,000 for the third month in a row in June. And the drop in the ISM manufacturing index to below the symbolic 50 mark in the same month points to a slowdown in annualised GDP growth to between 1.0% and 1.5%." While QE3 may not be a done deal, Dales said he's becoming "more convinced" that the Fed could get creative, "possibly launching its own version of the Bank of England's funding for lending scheme" and he thinks this could have a bigger impact on the economy than another round of bond buying. "
Given that some households are still struggling to get credit, we doubt that QE3 would alter the economic outlook materially," he said. "The Fed appears to be coming round to this view. So even if doesn't launch QE3, it may well establish its own version of the Bank of England's funding for lending scheme in an attempt to boost the supply of credit."
Other policy options could be for the Fed to push back its commitment to keep interest rates at near-zero till mid-2015 from late 2014 or else initiate an open-ended asset purchase program based on certain economic conditions being met, rather than saying at the outset it plans to buy a specified amount of government-issued bonds in set time period. Dales also left the door open for the Fed to get really aggressive next week, though that would mean more dismal data in the interim. "It is important to point out that the Fed could yet be swayed by the data that are due to bereleased just ahead of next week's meeting," he wrote. "We are not expecting any major surprises from this Friday's release of annualized GDP growth for the second quarter (both we and the consensus are forecasting 1.5%) or next Wednesday's release of the ISM manufacturing index for July. But if both were much weaker than expected, and if the GDP release included some sharp downward revisions to previous quarters' data, then the Fed may feel compelled to act." As for Thursday's scheduled news, Facebook ( FB) is slated to deliver its quarterly results after the closing bell. It will be the social networking giant's first-ever report as a public company and the stakes are pretty high after the company's disastrous IPO back on May 18. Call it Facebook's folly as the company seems to have sold so much stock at such a high valuation out of the gate, the shares now have nowhere to go but down. The average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for Facebook to report a profit of 12 cents a share on revenue of $1.15 billion, and the sell slide is split ahead of the numbers with 19 of the 36 analysts covering the stock at either hold (17), underperform (1) or sell (1). The bears just got a jolt of ammunition though after Facebook partner Zynga ( ZNGA) reported a below-consensus profit after Wednesday's closing bell. The FarmVille maker also lowered its outlook, citing in part "a more challenging environment on the Facebook web platform," a comment that has investors bailing out on Mark Zuckerberg & Co. The shares closed Wednesday at $29.34, down 23% from the IPO pricing at $38 each, and the stock was down more than 7% in after-hours action to $27.15.
Oppenheimer was already getting bearish on Facebook ahead of the Zynga news, saying Monday the move to increased mobile usage from the desktop was likely to result in softness in Facebook's second-quarter numbers. "We expect US advertising will slow to 7% y/y growth from 27% in 1Q, with Int'l slowing to 32% growth from 48%, based on our analysis of desktop usage," the firm said. "The wild card is mobile, as we are not assuming the company is seeing ad revenues from new formats. However, we believe investor sentiment remains negative on the shares, with the stock reacting negatively to a recent comScore data release. For 2012, we estimate revenues in line with underwriters' and 1% below consensus." Check out TheStreet's quote page for Facebook for year-to-date share performance, analyst ratings, earnings estimates and much more. Wall Street also gets quarterly numbers on Thursday from three Dow components -- 3M ( MMM), Exxon Mobil ( XOM) and United Technologies ( UTX). Among the other high-profile reports are Starbucks ( SBUX) and Amazon.com ( AMZN). Amazon continues to walk a tightrope. The shares are up nearly 30% so far in 2012, trading at an eye-popping multiple even as the broad market stalls. The stock has a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 84.3X vs. a valuation of 13.3X for the S&P 500 as of Friday's close. Going back further though, Amazon is flat over the past year, and the stock has fallen 12% since hitting a 52-week high of $246.71 on Oct. 17. Wall Street is looking for the online retailing behemoth to report earnings of 2 cents a share on revenue of $12.89 billion in the June-ended period, down from a profit of 28 cents a share on revenue of $13.19 billion in the March quarter. Margins are always key for Amazon as the company has placed an emphasis on volume sales and the expansion of its ecosystem with the introduction of the Kindle line of e-reading devices and the Kindle Fire tablet. The company's own outlook for the second quarter was for operating income of between a loss of $260 million and a profit of $40 million on revenue ranging from $11.9 billion to $13.3 billion.
Elsewhere, the morning earnings avalanche will include AGCO ( AGCO), Alaska Air Group ( ALK), Alcatel-Lucent ( ALU), AmerisourceBergen ( ABC), Amylin Pharmaceuticals ( AMLN), AstraZeneca ( AZN), Build-A-Bear Workshop ( BBW), Celgene ( CELG), Colgate-Palmolive ( CL), Credit Suisse ( CS), Dow Chemical ( DOW), Dr. Pepper Snapple Group ( DPS), Dunkin Brands ( DNKN), Goldcorp ( GG), International Paper ( IP), Kimberly-Clark ( KMB), McGraw-Hill ( MHP), MetroPCS Communications ( PCS), Moody's Corp. ( MCO), National Oilwell Varco ( NOV), New York Times ( NYT), Occidental Petroleum ( OXY), Pulte Homes ( PHM), Raytheon ( RTN), Royal Caribbean Cruises ( RCL), Sprint Nextel ( S), Starwood Hotels ( HOT), Trex ( TREX), United Continental Holdings ( UAL), Valley National Bancorp ( VLY) and Waste Management ( WM). The late roster features Acme Packet ( APKT), Amgen ( AMGN), Applied Micro Circuits ( AMCC), Callaway Golf ( ELY), Chubb ( CB), Coinstar ( CSTR), Deckers Outdoor ( DECK), Expedia ( EXPE), Human Genome Services ( HGSI), KLA-Tencor ( KLAC), Nutrisystem ( NTRI), Oclaro ( OCLR), Tellabs ( TLAB) and VeriSign ( VRSN). The economic calendar includes weekly initial and continuing jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET; durable goods orders for June at 8:30 a.m. ET; and pending home sales for June at 10 a.m. ET. The consensus expectation is for initial claims to come in at 381,000, down slightly from last week's 386,000 total, according to Briefing.com. Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, is a little higher than that with an estimate of 390,000. He says this report should be viewed as pretty clean with any noise and distortions from the spring and annual auto plant shutdowns finally filtered out. And finally, aside from Zynga, Whole Foods Markets ( WFM) was a big mover in late trades, rising 11% to $94 after the specialty supermarket operator beat Wall Street's expectations with its fiscal third-quarter results. The company reported earnings of $116.8 million, or 63 cents a share, on revenue of $2.73 billion for the June-ended period, topping the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters for a profit of 61 cents a share on revenue of $2.73 billion. Whole Foods also lifted its outlook for the rest of the year. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.