Global Macro: S&P 500 May Stay Hot on Consumer Sentiment

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) could stay at record highs if the slowdown in U.S economic growth is offset by consumer optimism and an improving labor market in coming months.

The revised fourth-quarter growth figure, released Friday, showed the economy expanded by 2.4% in the last three months of 2013, sharply falling from a growth rate of 4.1% in the third quarter. Frigid temperatures weighed on the economy's largest components -- retail sales, industrial production and residential construction.

Although the economic data have been lackluster, forward-looking reports, as seen in the consumer-sentiment index from the University of Michigan, paint a more positive outlook. The indicator, also reported Friday, came in at 81.6, above an estimated reading of 81.2.

The question is whether the weather has distorted the numbers so much over the past few months to render them useless. If that's the case, the positive consumer sentiment readings may be a more accurate reflection of the health of the economy.

The Federal Reserve believes that cold weather has played a role in weakening data and that cutting its stimulus program remains the best course of action.

Meanwhile, the employment figure, due out this Friday, will be the next major indicator Expectations are for a modest 137,000 jobs added in February.

If the employment figure misses estimates for the third consecutive month, financial markets could sell off and the Fed may be forced to change its thinking.

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