GDP will be factor for markets

Be it the result of port strikes, weather or some weird seasonal factor, expectations are U.S. growth contracted in the first quarter and just how much could be an important factor in markets Friday.

Economists expect a 1 percent decline in first-quarter GDP, after an original print showed a 0.2 percent gain. That was down from 2.2 percent growth in the fourth quarter.

With the Fed's promise to decide on interest rate hikes based on economic data, even backward-looking data has become a big deal. The dollar this week has edged ahead, especially against the yen, on expectations of central bank rate increases this year, and each piece of positive data has given it a nudge.

Stock futures were lower Friday ahead of the report.

"If GDP comes in decent, it's going to give it another push," said Boris Schlossberg, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management. The dollar rose to a 12 ½-year high against the yen early Thursday but gave up some gains later in the day.

Besides GDP at 8:30 a.m. ET, there is also Chicago PMI at 9:45 a.m. and consumer sentiment at 10 a.m.

"They only care if it's different than expectations," said Steve Massocca, managing director of Wedbush Securities, of the GDP revision. "If it's worse than expectations, that pushes the Fed back. If it's better than expectations it pulls the Fed forward. It's a little bit of good news is bad news. ... It's kind of like golf, you want to drive it right down the middle."

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This year's first-quarter GDP has been especially under the spotlight as economists attempted to ascertain whether the economy was facing a temporary setback or something more enduring that could affect the Fed's decision-making. Many economists blame the weather and the port strike, but also note a lingering weakness that knocked their expectations of a bigger rebound for the second quarter.

CNBC, meanwhile, reported in April that the GDP data are potentially flawed because of unexplained, persistent weakness in the first quarter. The Bureau of Economic Analysis, which compiles GDP, has since acknowledged problems and said it has a "multi-pronged action plan" to improve its estimates, including seasonal adjustments. It intends to include new estimates with the release of second-quarter GDP June 30.

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Stocks moved slightly lower Thursday, with the Dow down 36 to 18,126 and the S&P 500 dropping 2 at 2,120. The Nasdaq fell 8 to 5,097, a day after it hit a record high.

U.S. equities took their cue from overseas markets, concerned that the news out of Greece is not as optimistic for a debt deal as markets believed Wednesday. The IMF's managing director, Christine Lagarde, said there is still a lot of work ahead before a deal could be made with Greece.

"The only ones saying there's a deal are the Greeks," said Art Cashin, director of floor operations for UBS at the NYSE. Greece's government has said it aims to reach a deal with lenders by Sunday.

Cliff Noreen, president of Babson Capital, said he's also skeptical. "Greece has $35 bililon of maturing bonds this year alone. I'm a credit analyst. When you dig into the numbers, it's a challenging situation and if it was a corporation, it would have to default," he said.

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Stocks soured even before the opening as traders reacted to the Shanghai composite plunging 6.5 percent overnight. The index, up more than 40 percent for the year, fell as brokers tightened margin lending.

"It put a chill into everything," said Cashin, adding there was a lot of speculative talk surrounding news of an investigation into the mysterious drop in the shares of solar company Hanergy Thin Film Power, a unit of Beijing's Hanergy Holding Group. "That's got people anxious." In a report from Reuters, the company did not respond to a request for comment.

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