NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Signs of weakness in U.S. manufacgturing triggered a breakneck session on Friday, the first day of trading for the new year, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average traded along a 220-point range, reflecting stepped-up volatility.
Cause for concern was data that showed that domestic manufacturing activity slowed to a six-month low of 55.5 in December, missing economists' forecasts of a 57.6 reading. The report appeared to blunt the optimistic market momentum that ended 2014 as the benchmark S&P 500 ended with a gain of 11%.
For Friday, the S&P 500 (SPY) was down 0.03% while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DIA) added 0.06% and the Nasdaq (QQQ) slipped 0.2%. The small-cap-focused Russell 2000
Mid-December, Fed chair Janet Yellen and colleagues pledged to remain "patient" in determining when to raise rates in 2015, which sparked a market-wide rally. "The committee considers it unlikely to begin the normalization process for at least the next couple of meetings," said Yellen in a conference. "This assessment, of course, is completely data dependent."
Fed-watchers will sift through the meeting minutes for further clues as to when a rate hike could occur. "A majority of participants probably favored moving to the more flexible guidance, with dovish concerns placated by the Committee's decision to explicitly state that the FOMC sees the new guidance as consistent with the old," BNP Paribas analysts wrote in a report. "We will be looking carefully for any discussions about the pace of tightening since such guidance has been notably absent from the policy statement."
However, all signs point to a steady-as-she-goes approach from the Fed for the time being. "We are the world's largest economy and with everyone else in the world slowing, the last thing they want to do is throw cold water on what we've got going," said U.S. Bank's Patty Edwards in a call following last month's announcement.
There's plenty else for traders to parse besides Fed chatter, though, with a smattering of key data due for release throughout the week. On Monday, December vehicle data will be released with economists expecting total sales to dip to 16.9 million from 17.08 million in November.
December non-manufacturing activity will be released on Tuesday morning with expectations for a slight slowdown to 58.5 from 59.3 in November. Also Tuesday, factory orders for November are forecast to drop 0.4%, a narrower decrease than the 0.7% fall in October.
On Wednesday, the ADP employment report is expected to show 230,000 non-farm jobs having been added to the private sector in December, a jump from the 208,000 positions created in November. Then, the U.S. Census Bureau is anticipated to announce a trade deficit of $42 billion in November, down from a $43.4 billion deficit the month earlier.
Initial claims data will be released Thursday morning. Economists expect the number of new claims for unemployment benefits to have fallen 8,000 to 290,000 for the week ended Dec. 27.
Finally, on Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the December unemployment situation. Forecasts are for 250,000 jobs to have been added to non-farm payrolls over the month, down from 321,000 in November, and for the unemployment rate to have fallen 100 basis points to 5.7%.
There are several earnings reports of note due for release next week, though earnings season won't be in full swing until unofficial forerunner Alcoa (AA) releases its fourth quarter on Monday, Jan. 12. Among those of note, restaurant chain Sonic (SONC) will report on Tuesday, and train manufacturer Greenbrier Company (GBX) , agriculture products company Monsanto (MON) and chipmaker Micron Technology (MU) are due for Wednesday. Retailers Bed, Bath and Beyond (BBBY) , PriceSmart (PSMT) and Family Dollar (FDO) will report on Thursday and lighting company Acuity Brands (AYI) is set for Friday.
Casino stocks were selling off over Friday's session after Macau casino revenue fell 2.6% over 2014, its first-ever drop since records began in 2002. MGM Resorts (MGM) , Las Vegas Sands (LVS) and Wynn Resorts (WYNN) were all trading lower.
Rite Aid (RAD) shares climbed 1.5% after the drugstore chain reported a 5.3% jump in same-store sales in December, while pharmacy sales gained 7.3%.
Harvest Natural Resources (HNR) plummeted more than 48.8% after terminating the sale of Venezuelan assets citing lack of local government approval. The petroleum company had previously warned its future liquidity was dependent on the sale's completion.
Ballard Power Systems (BLDP) announced the termination of two licensing agreements in China, a move it said will impact its full-year results. The alternative energy provider said it will not achieve 20% revenue growth over 2014 as previously guided. Shares were down 7.6%.
Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics (BCLI) continued to rally, up more than 58%, after Wednesday's news of positive clinical trial results for its ALS treatment. Shares spiked 22.7% on Wednesday. Synaptics (SYNA) shares were trading 6.7% lower after Pacific Crest downgraded to "sector perform" on growing competition in the fingerprint sensor and touch controller business.
-- Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.