Retailers and Fed Are Front and Center Again
Business + Economy

Retailers and Fed Are Front and Center Again

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Some traders are convinced the stock market is on auto-pilot, poised to move higher into the year end, and the week ahead may provide more proof of that.

That's not to say the market isn't feeling a bit toppy. The Dow and S&P 500 ended Friday at record highs, both closing in on big round numbers - 1800 for the S&P and 16,000 for the Dow. The Nasdaq too was within reach of 4,000, a level it hasn't achieved in 13 years.

The S&P closed out a sixth week of gains, up 1.5 percent to 1798, its longest winning streak since February. Those big round numbers could be a draw, attracting investors who have lost out on the market's gains and keeping others who aren't ready to take profits.

"I would not underestimate the psychological elements of investing," said Laszlo Birinyi, founder of Birinyi Associates. "The resilience of the market is good…My goal a couple of weeks ago, I said 1820 over the next three to six months, and now it looks like the next three to six weeks."

The consumer is a big focus in the coming week, as Home Depot and a number of other retailers, including Target, Best Buy, JCPenney and Gap, report earnings. There is also the government's retail sales report, and key existing homes data, both due on Wednesday. The week will also be peppered with a heavy dose of Fed speeches, including an address by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke before the National Association of Business Economists Tuesday night.

Related:  Cautious Consumers May Make for Ho-Ho-Hum Holiday Sales 

The Senate Banking Committee is expected to confirm Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen to take the place of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in the next week, before passing it on to a full Senate vote. Yellen's debut before the Senate panel for her confirmation hearing this past week set a positive tone for stocks, as traders viewed her to be dovish and unlikely to bring a swifter end to Fed's easing programs.

"The message of maintaining monetary accommodation was loud and clear, and that certainly helped the market. That's an important driver," said Leo Grohowski, chief investment officer at BNY Mellon Wealth Management. "The Fed has been such an important component for the market even though I'm not in the camp to say it's all Fed. The Fed has provided the grease for the economic engine."

Yellen's dovish tone also tempered some of the move higher in Treasury yields, following the stronger-than-expected October jobs report Nov. 8. The 10-year yield was at 2.71 percent late Friday.

While the stock market has been flashing some warning signals, like more boisterous sentiment, stocks keep trudging higher. "The market's come a long way, but we still like it…The path of least resistance continues to feel higher, and I think we'll get, just as we have in the past few years, these bouts of concerns, but it's two steps forward and one step back," said Grohowski. "There's a lot of conservative positioned portfolios that had been waiting all year for the 10 percent pull back that we never had."

Grohowski doesn't see a correction coming this year, but there could be one on the horizon early next year. "I do think if the fighting (in Congress) comes back so early in the new year, it's just going to add to some selling pressure that's going to be there because of deferring of capital gains. I do think you will see an unusual amount of gains taken early in the year because there are unusually high gains and there are higher taxes to pay on them." For many investor portfolios, there aren't a lot of losses to offset the gains, he added.

Grohowski has a target of 1900 to 1950 on the S&P 500 for 2014. "If we do get closer to 1900 before the start of the year, we'll probably make an asset allocation shift and not just a rebalancing. I think what's more likely is what we are now having - this kind of mini melt up into the year end," he said. Grohowski said investors still have plenty of dry powder, in high cash accounts, noting the $2.6 trillion in money market funds, off just slightly from the $2.71 trillion at the beginning of the year.

"I'm wondering if the January effect will be challenged this year," he said. "It's going to be Happy New Year and let's start beating each other up with the debt ceiling debate. (As for) the January effect, maybe we should be enjoying it with our Thanksgiving turkey. There's a feel good in the market that's not going to be interrupted but once people are thinking about the new year, I think you've got those deferred gains, and the you've got the debt ceiling debate that's going to start getting on the front page."

Related:  6 Steps to Smarter Holiday Shopping 

Scott Redler, who follows the market's short-term technicals, said this market has been especially tough on bears, who have been repeatedly forced to cover shorts. One positive this week was a rebound in financial stocks, which were up 1.3 percent. "Most traders had one foot in the door, one foot out. The bears had the power last Thursday. They lost it Friday with the jobs report. When the market opened lower around 1760 Wednesday, that was their chance," he said.

But instead the market powered higher. "It gets harder to stay with it. It gets harder and harder as the percentage increases add up and each milestone gets eclipsed. We're at 1800. What's next? Could we see 1820 to 1840 by year-end? Possibly, but how you're maneuvering it could be tricky," Redler said.

Week of the Consumer
Thanksgiving week is the official start of holiday shopping but with a shorter period than normal between the Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas, and the overlap of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, holiday shopping is already in focus and so is the consumer.

So the comments of retailers on the holiday season, as they report earnings will be key, after the conflicting positive view of Macy's this past week and the cautious tone of Wal-Mart.

Related:  Macy's Flagship Store Finally in the Palm of Your Hand 

As for the government retail sales report, Pierpont Chief Economist Stephen Stanley said he expects a gain of 0.1 percent, ex autos and flat for the headline. "I think retail sales are going to be lackluster, pretty close to flat," he said. "Yesterday 's productivity numbers show the compensation numbers aren't growing very fast. No wonder people aren't spending much."

Stanley also said existing home sales Wednesday could be soft. "I think they'll be down quite a bit. The consensus has them close to flat, but I think we could be down closer to five million. The mortgage rate rising is a part of it but I think the bigger issue in terms of affordability is just how fast prices have risen."

The troop of Fed speakers in the coming week will also be important for the markets, as traders attempt to assess when the Fed might wind down its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. Stanley said Yellen has made it clear it would not be soon, and he expects to hear the usual disagreement among Fed officials over when the program should end when they speak this week.

But Bernanke will probably not make much news in terms of policy, when he speaks Tuesday evening, he said. "I get the sense that he's already stepping back. Since the press conference, he's said very little, if any policy reference," Stanley said. "I think he's trying to ease the transition by fading into the background and allowing her to move into the foreground. He may say stuff that the markets pay attention to, but I doubt he sends a policy signal."


Earnings: Tyson Foods,, Urban Outfitters, UGI, Amerigas Partners, Brocade, Semtech
0900 am Treasury international capital flows
1000 am NAHB survey
1215 pm New York Fed President William Dudley on regional economy
0130 pm Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser on economic outlook and monetary policy
0545 pm Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota on "too big to fail"

Earnings: Home Depot, Medtronic, Best Buy, Campbell Soup, Dick's Sporting Goods, TJX, Trina Solar, Valspar, La-Z-Boy
0830 am Employment cost index
0215 pm Chicago Fed President Charles Evans
0700 pm Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks at the annual National Association of Business Economists dinner

Earnings: Deere, JC Penney, Green Mountain, Lowe's, Williams-Sonoma, Staples, JM Smuckers, ADT, L Brands, Jack in the Box
0700 am Mortgage applications
0830 am CPI
0830 am Retail sales
1000 am Business inventories
1000 am Existing home sales
1000 am New York Fed's Dudley on for-profit institutions in higher education
1210 pm St. Louis Fed President James Bullard on economy and monetary policy
0200 pm FOMC minutes

Earnings: Target, Dollar Tree, Abercrombie and Fitch, The Buckle, Gap,Autodesk, Pandora, Berry Plastics, Fresh Market, Splunk, Gamestop, Ross Stores
0830 am Jobless claims
0830 am PPI
0858 am Manufacturing PMI
0945 am Fed Gov. Jerome Powell on over-the-counter derivatives
1000 am Philadelphia Fed survey
1000 am Leading indicators
1230 pm Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker on economy
1250 pm St. Louis Fed's Bullard on economy and monetary policy
0430 pm Money supply
0430 pm Fed's balance sheet

Earnings: Foot Locker, Ann, PetSmart
0840 am Kansas City Fed President Esther George on banking supervision, Paris
1000 am JOLTS job openings survey
1100 am Kansas City Fed survey
1215 pm Fed Gov. Daniel Tarullo

This article originally appeared in CNBC.

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