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Retail sales could drive trading on Wall Street

Barring a geopolitical event, the direction of Tuesday's trade is likely to be determined by data on April retail sales, and could potentially help the only sector of the S&P 500's main industry groups still in the red for the year.

"This is the first clean number we will see, with no weather impairment and no Easter shift. It should take the noise out of investing tomorrow," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities.

"We're looking for a 0.4 percent gain, excluding autos 0.6 percent," Hogan said of the Commerce Department release, set for 8:30 a.m. ET.

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

"When looking at the spring retail sales report, we're cognizant of the rotating nature of Passover, Easter, spring breaks, etc, so we look at March and April in combination to gauge how strong the spring selling season is, and March numbers were terrific," said Phil Orlando, equity market strategist at Federated Investors.

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Tuesday's retail numbers come three days ahead of a measure of consumer sentiment from the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan, notes Orlando.

"Confidence numbers from the Conference Board have been running at a six-year high, with the University of Michigan numbers just under, so it will be interesting to see if we strengthen or stall, but the consumer as measured by retail sales and consumer confidence is getting better," Orlando said.

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"Consumer discretionary names have been underperforming, due to the fact that we were getting retail sales that were disappointing, so this could positively impact one of the laggards," said Hogan of the only sector of the S&P 500's 10 major industry groups in negative terrain for 2014, down 3.4 percent.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson

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