Updated from 6:12 p.m. ET to include information about Sears leaving the S&P 500. NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks are still searching for a catalyst, and it's starting to look more and more like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke won't cooperate with a big old wink to QE3 come Friday. "Investors will likely be disappointed if they hope to hear something substantive come from Chairman Bernanke's comments from the Jackson Hole Symposium," wrote Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ after Wednesday's close. "We think QE3 will likely be announced following the mid-September FOMC meeting - if at all - since U.S. economic data continue to come in either slightly better than expected or show an improvement over the initial reading, such as this week's increase in the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, upward revision to Q2 GDP and improving tone of the Fed's Beige Book." The view of John Higgins, senior markets economist at Capital Economics, is that QE3 won't do much for stocks anyway. He left his year-end 2012 forecast for the S&P 500 at 1350 on Wednesday while also keeping his 2013 view at 1400, meaning he sees a whole lot of nothing happening through the end of the next year. "While the launch of a third round of asset purchases by the Fed could conceivably whet investors' appetite for risk, other factors could dull it," Higgins said. "Foremost among these is a break-up of the euro-zone, which we still think could begin before the year is out. What's more, the underlying yield on 10-year TIPS
Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities is now significantly negative, at around -0.7%." Higgins also highlighted the current slowdown in earnings growth, which makes for a much different market environment than when the Fed previously embarked on massive asset purchase programs, and said the central bank's tools for stimulating the economy haven't got the job done so far so it's difficult to believe more is going be better at this point. "The failure of the economy to recover strongly in recent years has cast doubt on the healing properties of unconventional monetary stimulus," he said. "Skepticism has usurped optimism ... the consensus GDP forecast for next year is currently only around 2.4% - lower than the year-ahead GDP forecast that prevailed when Bernanke hinted at QE2 two years ago."
Tony Dwyer, equity strategist at Canaacord Genuity, is much more bullish and he reiterated targets for the S&P 500 of 1575 for 2012 and 1650 for 2013 on Wednesday. "The European Debt Crisis and recession, slowing growth in emerging economies, and fears of 'fiscal cliff' have priced in a recession that we continue to believe remains highly unlikely," he said while also echoing the old market saw, don't fight the Fed. "The most important ingredient to our favorable fundamental outlook is a benign core inflation environment," he wrote. "Once we have that, it gives the Fed flexibility to use unique and unpredicted monetary tools to reach their desired goals." As for Thursday's scheduled news, Ciena ( CIEN) is slated to report its fiscal third-quarter results before the opening bell. The average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for a loss of 2 cents a share in the July-ended quarter on revenue of $473.9 million. Shares of the Linthicum, Md. optical networker are up more than 40% so far in 2012, hitting a 52-week of $18.39 on Aug. 13. The company has a spotty track record on earnings day -- missing in four of the past eight quarters -- but it did deliver a surprise profit last time around. The sell side is mostly bullish with 18 of the 25 analysts covering Ciena at either strong buy (7) or buy (11), and the 12-month median price target sits at $18, implying potential upside of 7.7% from Wednesday's close at $16.72. Other companies on the light earnings docket include OmniVision Technologies ( OVTI), Splunk ( SPLK), and Zumiez ( ZUMZ). The economic calendar features weekly initial and continuing jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET; and personal income and spending for July at 8:30 a.m. ET. Thursday is also same-store sales day for some retailers. Thomson Reuters is forecasting overall growth of 2.1% for August, down from an increase of 4.8% last year. Excluding the drug store sector, the expectation is for a jump of 4.1%. "Analysts' reports show that mall traffic has been on rise towards the end of the month," the firm said on Tuesday. "Moreover, the Sales Tax Holidays brought parents and their children to the malls. As a result, analysts have become bullish on the Apparel sector, and have increased their SSS estimates to 5.0% from 4.4% at the beginning of the month."
Thomson Reuters is projecting Zumiez, Gap ( GPS), and Macy's ( M) to post positive surprises, while saying Stage Stores ( SSI), Limited Brands ( LTD) and The Wet Seal ( WTSLA) are among the likely laggards. And finally, Pandora ( P) was a big mover to the upside in late trades on Wednesday after the streaming music company posted break-even results for its fiscal second quarter and gave a strong guidance. The company sees revenue ranging from $115 million to $118 million for its third quarter ending in October, ahead of Wall Street's current consensus estimate of $114.4 million. For the full year, Pandora expects revenue of $425 million to $432 million and a non-GAAP loss of 4 to 8 cents a share vs. the average analysts' view for a loss of 11 cents a share on revenue of $424.2 million. The stock was last quoted at $11.03, up 9.4%, on volume of nearly 2.1 million, according to Nasdaq.com. Sears Holdings Corp. ( SHLD) was a late loser on news the company is being removed from the S&P 500. Noting the public float for Sears' stock has been "well below the 50% threshold for inclusion for an extended period of time," S&P Dow Jones Indices said the struggling department store retailer will be nixed from the index after the close of trading on Sept. 4, replaced by LyondellBasell Industries ( LYB). Shares of Sears, which are up more than 70% so far in 2012, ticked lower in the wake of the news. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron.