The Week Ahead: Economic Reports Are the Key

Includes: DIA, IVV, QQQ, SPY
by: Markos Kaminis

In Friday's "Morning Report" I attempted to discern exactly who was to blame for recent market volatility. Volatility is often the result of a lack of clarity, and so I sought to determine exactly who had confused things so badly. The three parties I subjectively decided should be brought in for questioning included the usual suspects, the Fed, the media and that sneaky market, including the whole gang of its participants.

Recall, I pardoned the market on Friday, since it is considered efficient in assimilating information. I gave the media a break also, referring to its impact as just a skewing factor. In retrospect, I believe I may have wrongly accused the Fed. As I thought about it over the weekend, I recalled an old business school exercise, which for lack of perfect recall I've renamed "The Secret." Imagine a circle of people (please practice this at a dinner party some time). If one person within the circle whispers something, some statement of fact that only he knows, to the person to his immediate right, and then each following person passes the message on until it reaches the last party, I think you'll find a surprising result.

It's funny how a simple statement of fact can evolve into something a little different. When that last person compares his fact to that of the first, the two generally will not quite match, especially the first time you try it before everyone is on guard. In fact, the two could be drastically different.

This is why I propose the blame may not solely fall on the Fed. At the October FOMC policy meeting, the Fed clearly stated its intention to settle into a neutral position regarding its target rate. This was clear, unequivocally clear to me anyhow. However, within the hour of the news release market pundits already doubted the Fed's sincerity. The media also found tidbits of information within the announcement to feed the public other possibilities to ponder beyond the main message. As time passed, Fed representatives themselves spoke publicly, delivering much more information than "we're neutral." Market participants also partook in active speculation publicly, and also impacted the flow of news and opinion.

So what I'm saying is that the story changed somewhere from October to now. Meanwhile, the real story may not have changed at all. The Fed may actually still be neutral. Yes, despite Fed funds rate indicators, economists' consensus and even Vice-Chair Kohn's comments, which I must note were qualified as being of his opinion solely, we still may be neutral. But the media didn't mention that Kohn qualification in all the hoopla did they? You would have to actually go and listen to the speech to get that. I listened to Bernanke as well, and I found him sounding like a man who was still on the fence. I'm sorry to spoil your cake.

There's nothing new in Bernanke's statement of "nimbleness and flexibility." We've been reading this from Mishkin, especially, as regularly as the sunrise. Yes, credit markets have regressed and the financial sector has written off the kitchen sink, but some Fed policy makers are expecting their last 75 points of action plus the Treasury's pending proposals to help in a substantive way soon.

In other words, the secret is out folks, but it's changed. Depending on some key data points due for release this week, I still believe there's a decent chance of Fed inaction on December 11th. With this in mind, and if the market continues bullish into the announcement, I think we could be in for a major collapse rivaling another 11th related trading period of the past. However, a lot will happen between then and now, and I'll keep close tabs on it for you.

Now let's take a look at the week ahead...

On Monday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is scheduled to comment on his most recent efforts to mitigate mortgage market issues. This secret is out as well, and it has to do with freezing rates on specific qualified ARMS loans temporarily, which should only delay the inevitable for those who still will not be able to afford their mortgage when rates reset. However, it may bide some time and allow for refinancing out of tough loans while also giving the mortgage derivatives market a chance to unwind or be sold to vested interests or the giant hypothetical superfund. This not bad news should start the market right where it left off on Friday, rising; this of course barring any new significant financial sector blowup. San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen probably can't dent the impact of last week's powerful speakers when she makes a scheduled address on Monday.

The first bit of economic data hits the wires at 10:00 a.m., with the reporting of the November ISM Manufacturing Index. Last week's Beige Book seems to portend weakness here, but the NAPM - Chicago came in well ahead of expectations at 52.9. Bloomberg's consensus of economists are looking for an ISM reading of 50.4 for November, compared to 50.9 in October. Remember, 50 marks the break point between contraction and expansion of the manufacturing sector. Motor vehicle sales will be reported for November at 4 p.m., with expectations for 12.1 million vehicles, compared to the same figure in October.

Barron's published an important article about a notable event that is to take place Monday (see the Tech Trader column). Some very useful wireless spectrum is going up for auction, and applications are due Monday. According to Barron's, old VHF and UHF airwaves could prove extremely valuable for wireless broadband providers, and interest is expected from the likes of AT&T (NYSE: T), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) to name a few.

MetLife (NYSE: MET) is holding its investor day, while the earnings schedule includes the likes of CMGI (Nasdaq: CMGI), Cost Plus (Nasdaq: CPWM), Gladstone Capital (Nasdaq: GLAD), Guess (NYSE: GES), Isle of Capri Casinos (Nasdaq: ISLE), Mitcham Industries (Nasdaq: MIND), Phillips Van-Heusen (NYSE: PVH) and Tutogen Medical (NYSE: TTG). Deere (NYSE: DE) is scheduled to split its shares 2:1 on Monday.

Tuesday's slate is relatively bare, but we'll be looking for the regular ICSC-UBS Weekly Same-Store Sales Report. Last week's data, which included Black Friday, showed a 2.5% year-to-year improvement. The Bank of Canada could cut rates in order to help export sales, according to Brown Brothers Harriman, as quoted in Barron's.

Merck (NYSE: MRK) will offer its outlook for 2008, while the earnings schedule includes Aerovironment (Nasdaq: AVAV), America's Car-mart (Nasdaq: CRMT), Angelica (NYSE: AGL), Chico's FAS (NYSE: CHS), Collective Brands (NYSE: PSS), Copart (Nasdaq: CPRT), Cossette Communications (NYSE: KOS), Financial Federal (NYSE: FIF), Landauer (NYSE: LDR), Layne Christensen (Nasdaq: LAYN), Photronics (Nasdaq: PLAB), Quanex (NYSE: NX), Sanderson Farms (Nasdaq: SAFM), Versant (Nasdaq: VSNT) and Wind River Systems (Nasdaq: WIND).

The tide may turn on Wednesday, as three controversial reports might offer negative news to the market. The first news should arrive from OPEC's long anticipated meeting, from which many were expecting a production hike. However, oil prices dipped to below $90 last week, possibly prompting the body wait on a follow-up to its November production boost. The second potentially threatening news is scheduled from Challenger, Gray & Christmas' November Job-Cut Report. We do not have a forecast for the job-cut data, but September and October's reports measured 71,739 and 63,114, respectively. Finally, the ADP Employment Report for November is due. Seen as the prelude to Friday's Employment Situation Report, this could move the market. While no forecast is available, September and October reached 58,000 and 106,000, respectively. Without guessing the result, I expect the market is more likely to react to negative news than it is to believe in a positive reading.

Wednesday will prove a very busy day with several other economic data bits due. The Mortgage Bankers Association issues its regular Purchase Applications Report bright and early. At 8:30 a.m. EST, third quarter nonfarm productivity is scheduled for revision, with the consensus expecting productivity to be revised higher to 5.7% improvement from the 4.9% previously noted. Unit labor costs are expected to slip 1.1% (-0.2%). This data should not prove too important after the GDP revision last week. October Factory Orders are seen unchanged, compared to a 0.2% increase in September. Indeed, durable goods orders were reported weak (-0.4%) just last week.

At 10:00, look for the ISM Nonmanufacturing Survey for November to measure 54.8, versus 55.8 in October. Pending Home Sales are also set for release; September showed a 0.2% month-to-month increase. Least we forget, the EIA Petroleum Status Report will meet its regular 10:30 deadline and is well-matched to the OPEC news of this same day.

Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) and AIG (NYSE: AIG) have investor day's set up for Wednesday, while Sony (NYSE: SNE) has a news conference arranged. Genentech (NYSE: DNA) is awaiting FDA approval for Avastin to treat breast cancer. The earnings schedule includes ActiveIdentity (Nasdaq: ACTI), Alloy (Nasdaq: ALOY), Blyth (NYSE: BTH), Casella Waste Systems (Nasdaq: CWST), Casey's General Stores (Nasdaq: CASY), Comtech Telecommunicatons (Nasdaq: CMTL), DSW Inc. (NYSE: DSW), Dynamex (Nasdaq: DDMX), Finisar (Nasdaq: FNSR), G-III Apparel (Nasdaq: GIII), Greif Brothers (NYSE: GEF), Innovative Solutions (Nasdaq: ISSC), Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL), Powell Industries (Nasdaq: POWL) and Synovus Life Technologies (Nasdaq: SYNO).

Thursday gets busy with a packed schedule. The Monster Employment Index will add to the data overload regarding the employment picture this week. Then, Weekly Initial Jobless Claims are seen at 335K, after rocketing higher last week.

The Bank of England and the European Central Bank are both slated to announce interest rate decisions, and a growing number of folk are starting to look to a BOE rate cut based on similar concerns to the U.S. market. Europe is contending with rising inflation alongside economic concerns, and thus stuck in a quandary.

Chain store sales are due for November, and this news will be very important of course, but since it is fragmented among all the individual companies, it could prove confusing. The regular EIA Natural Gas Report is due at 10:30. With temperatures getting chilly in the Northeast, nat gas prices could rise into this report, and then react to it negatively depending on the forward 10-day forecast.

Ely Lilly (NYSE: LLY) and FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE) hold analyst days, while the earnings schedule includes Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL), American Software (Nasdaq: AMSWA), Analogic (Nasdaq: ALOG), Bank of Nova Scotia (NYSE: BNS), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (NYSE: CM), Cantel Medical (NYSE: CMN), Cascade Corp. (NYSE: CAE), Covidien (NYSE: COV), Esterline Tech (NYSE: ESL), Fleetwood Enterprises (NYSE: FLE), Gander Mountain (Nasdaq: GMTN), Gildan Activewear (NYSE: GIL), Herley Industries (Nasdaq: HRLY), Hooker Furniture (Nasdaq: HOFT), Korn Ferry (NYSE: KFY), Krispy Kreme (NYSE: KKD), Liquidity Services (Nasdaq: LQDT), Movado (NYSE: MOV), National Semiconductor (NYSE: NSM), NeoMagic (Nasdaq: NMGC), Optium (Nasdaq: OPTM), Smith & Wesson (Nasdaq: SWHC), Source Interlink (Nasdaq: SORC), Synopsys (Nasdaq: SNPS), Toro (NYSE: TTC), UTi Worldwide (Nasdaq: UTIW) and Verifone Holdings (NYSE: PAY).

On Friday, all will anticipate the "granddaddy of all economic reports," the Employment Situation Report. At 8:30, nonfarm payrolls are seen increasing 65,000 in November, while unemployment rises to 4.8%. Average hourly earnings are expected to rise 0.3%. That volatile and recently unpredictable nonfarm payroll number is the market-mover of this group. It's highly unlikely unemployment would rise more than the tenth of a percentage point estimated.

But that's not all folks! We have a trio of consumer reports to deal with as well. The RBC Cash Index at 9:00 a.m. will offer the first look at consumer confidence, before the widely followed Michigan Consumer Sentiment for December is reported. Expectations are for a reading of 76, compared to November's 76.1 (revised from 75). Topping off the week's economic news, Consumer Credit is seen increasing by $9.0 billion in October. That's a hot number I totally agree with. September's increase was $3.7 billion.

Friday's earnings slate includes Generex Biotechnology (Nasdaq: GNBT), Hi-Tech Pharmacal (Nasdaq: HITK), ICO Inc. (Nasdaq: ICOC), Kellwood Co. (NYSE: KWD), OYO Geospace (Nasdaq: OYOG) and Sirona Dental Systems (Nasdaq: SIRO).