Lehman Bros.' fourth-quarter earnings report, producer price inflation data and November retail sales will be factors setting direction for Thursday's markets.
Wednesday's market turbulence subsided with the Dow closing up 41 points on the day at 13,473. At one point, the Dow was higher by 271.75 points, or 2.02%, before trading down 111, giving the Dow a 382-point range for the day.
Wednesday's open was upbeat, on the promise the Fed was taking action to inject liquidity that would ease the credit crunch. The Fed plan, announced ahead of the open, was initially met with exuberance, but that faded as reality set back in, taking financial stocks lower and ultimately the market down as well. But buyers were there at the close. The Dow recovered, and the Nasdaq finished up 18 at 2,671 and the S&P 500 was up 8.94 at 1,486.59.
Lehman Bros. is the first broker to report fourth-quarter profit. It will be closely watched for any current comments on the impact of the subprime debt crisis and for its outlook for next quarter. The financial stocks are at the heart of the credit crunch, and the first one to report in a period is something akin to the canary in the coal mine.
Lehman is expected to report profit of $1.42 per share, down 17 percent from last year, on revenue of $4.2 billion, a 6 percent decline.
Important economic data Thursday includes the 8:30 am release of retail sales for November, expected to be up 0.6 percent and more robust than December's results. Producer prices, also at 8:30 am, are expected to be up 1.5 percent. Initial jobless claims are also due. At 10 am, business inventories are reported.
Also on the agenda is CNBC's exclusive coverage of Yale's CEO Leadership Summit in New York City. "Street Signs" will broadcast live from the event and CNBC's Dennis Kneale will report from there. Steve Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone , Former SEC Chairman William Donaldson, former Motorola Chairman Chirstopher Galvin and investment banker Wilbur Ross, and John Thain, newly named CEO of Merrill Lynch .
Fed -- Right or Wrong?
The Fed delivered a shot of optimism Wednesday morning when it said it and four other central banks would provide temporary short-term lending to help ease the global credit crunch. The unprecedented move is intended to ease strains in still constricted money markets. The Fed will make funds available through four auctions that will provide an anonymous bidding process. The European Central Bank and the central banks of Switzerland, Canada and Britain will participate with similar moves, along with facilities for foreign exchange swaps.
"Glory, Hallelujah. There's a doctor in the house. The fire truck has finally left the station," Pimco chief investment officer Bill Gross told CNBC's Erin Burnett on "Street Signs" Wednesday.
"There is less doubt today than yesterday that the Fed understands the liquidity problem in the credit markets," Gross said. "(T)his is an insurance or reinsurance policy on liquidity and not risky assets."
The news came just a day after the Fed's quarter-point rate cut and accompanying statement disappointed markets, sparking a 294-point sell off in the Dow. The Fed noted in its comments that the economy is slowing, a sign to many on Wall Street that it should have made a more aggressive move and cut rates deeper.
"I applaud the Fed for thinking out of the box. It is a credit liquidity problem, and there's a lack of propensity to lend money so by targeting this way, I think it's a really good start on the part of the Federal Reserve, particularly since it doesn't have the same stigma attached to it that borrowing form the discount window does," said Bob Auwaeter, Vanguard head of fixed income, also on "Street Signs."
But there are many who disagree and one of the more vocal is CNBC's Larry Kudlow.
"The Fed is blowing smoke at us, pure and simple," said Kudlow. "The only way to clear up overly tight money and the credit squeeze is to slash the Federal funds rate or better yet let it float. All of this liquidity facility is a bunch of rigmarole."
"Goldilocks is going to win in the end because the Fed will finally get the drill. They are going to cut the funds rate many more times. The academic bureaucrats will finally come to their senses. Their performance yesterday and today was nothing short of pathetic," Kudlow said.
You can see he's not shy with his opinion.
Oil prices are heating up again, with New York light crude futures up $4.37 per barrel, or 4.9 percent to $94.39 per barrel. M.F. Global senior vice president John Kilduff says oil has returned to rally mode. Kilduff reaffirmed his belief that crude will reach $100 per barrel before year end.
Kilduff said money came pouring back into the oil market with the Fed's announcement and hedge funds were big buyers.
"The liquidity that's back in the market allows for some of the more speculative dollars to be back in here. It's floating all the boats at this point and this is a breakout of the range we had been in," Kilduff said. Kilduff said crude's current move has broken its 10-, 20- and 30-day moving averages.
"That's even more bullish than the four dollars oil is up ... Now the next hurdle to climb is just above $95," he said.
Oil came close to $100 on Nov. 21 when it hit $99.29 per barrel before backing off on concerns the slowing economy will take its toll on demand.
Goldman Sachs also helped prices Wednesday with its new 2008 oil price forecast of an average $95 a barrel in 2008, an increase of $10 from its earlier forecast.
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