Week Ahead: The Big Test
Whenever the stock market rushes full speed ahead, it is hard not to step back and look for the big let-down.
That could be the case in the week ahead -- but better-than-expected earnings added a positive tone to a market that technicians say is behaving admirably, at least for now.
Major earnings reports, housing data, annual shareholder meetings, and Tuesday's Pennsylvania presidential primaries are what traders will be watching to see if the trend continues.
In uncertain times, like now, we've come to follow the technicians more closely. Natexis Bleichroeder technical analyst John Roque said the market is following a pattern he's been expecting.
"For the last number of weeks, we've been expecting an S&P rally," said Roque. "We continue to believe that natural resources and basic materials will be the leadership."
Top-shelf advice -- from CNBC's experts:
Roque said this past week's move was a positive. "It's been a good sign that the number of new lows on the NYSE has dried up and the number of new highs are increasing," he said.
When stocks retested their lows in mid-March, Roque said it became clear that that was a low point, and that convinced him the market was oversold.
"The sentiment was disgusting at that point. Everybody hated everything," he said. "I don't know how strong the rally will be but we're looking for 1420 [on the S&P 500]," Roque said.
That target would equate to about 13,100 on the Dow. Roque says he will adjust his targets only after the market reaches those levels.
Stocks, in their upswing this week, pushed through their February highs. The Dow finished the week at 12,849, up 4.3 percent, its highest close since Jan. 10. The Nasdaq, fired up by Google's super rally, rose 4.9 percent for the week, and the S&P 500 was up 4.3 percent at 1390.
Despite the positive market tone and the relief among traders about earnings news, there's some concern that it may be downhill from here. This is the weakest earnings period since 2002, according to Goldman Sachs. In a note Friday, Goldman Sachs strategist David Kostin says he expects "further macro weakness and 2008 EPS cuts that will push the S&P 500 lower."
Kostin says analysts, on average, have trimmed 2008 estimates for companies that reported by 2 percent. Goldman analysts say the quarter is flashing mixed signals with techs better, financials weaker and international sales making some companies winners.
"We believe that continued negative earnings revisions will ultimately lead the equity market lower, regardless of any short-lived rallies," the analysts said.
Citigroup's Tobias Levkovich says stocks could still face mid-year "challenges." In his Friday note, he says he expects the market to face downside risk around mid-year, as analysts shave earnings estimates.
But Levkovich says there's a case to be made for a more bullish view in the second half. One factor should be an improved credit environment.
We can look forward to more earnings news from big-name tech, big pharma, and the first of the oil companies in the week ahead.
On the tech front, Texas Instruments reports Monday; Yahoo releases numbers Tuesday; Amazon and Apple are out Wednesday, and Microsoft reports earnings Thursday. Among the big drug companies, Eli Lilly , Novartis and Merck report Monday. Merck's CEO will appear on CNBC.
AT&T , McDonald's and DuPont report Tuesday; and Anheuser-Busch , Boeing and UPS report Wednesday. On Thursday, ConocoPhillips and PepsiCo report. Friday has Ericsson and Honda .
So far, 99 S&P 500 companies have reported. Earnings have fallen 36.3 percent from last year, while revenues are up 1 percent. Sixty-three percent of the companies reporting have had upside surprises, while 24 percent reported negative surprises.
It's a relatively light week for data. But the ones to watch relate to real estate: existing home sales Tuesday and new home sales Thursday. Durable goods orders are reported Thursday as are weekly jobless claims. On Friday, consumer sentiment is released. The Richmond Fed issues its survey Monday.
Fed speakers are scarce in the coming week: Fed Governor Randall Kroszner speaks at 1:30pm ET on Monday at the Community Reinvestment Fund Community Development Forum in Minneapolis.
First, oil gushed into record territory this past weekand stayed there, ending the week at $116.69 per barrel, a gain of 6 percent. Oil is now up 31 percent in the last three months, and is 22 percent higher for the year so far. Gasoline also jumped, adding 6.5 percent in the past week to close at $2.9893. Natural gas rose 6.9 percent to $10.587.
MF Global senior vice president John Kilduff tells us he just put a new target on oil of $125 per barrel. He expects crude to reach that price within three months, based on dollar weakness, supply concerns and a surprisingly resilient U.S. economy that will keep buying demand strong.
Gold meanwhile lost $11.40 per troy ounce or 1.2 percent for the week, to $912.20. That includes a $27.60 decline Friday.
Treasuries, meanwhile, had a wild week. The yield on the two-year sold off, with its yield finishing the week higher at 2.173 percent, the highest yield since Jan. 31. The 10-year was also under selling pressure. Its yield rose to 3.743 percent.
The dollar, meanwhile, staged a bit of a rally Friday, finishing 0.48 percent higher against the euro. For the week, it was just slightly lower, ending at 1.5808 against the euro.
A meeting at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Tuesday caught our attention. Slightly more than two dozen representatives from exchanges, Wall Street and the agriculture industry will hold a roundtable to discuss whether the futures markets are properly performing their risk management and price discovery roles. Some participants will say they are not.
Randy Gordon, vice president for communication at the National Grain and Feed Association, says one of the issues is that farmers are having a difficult time hedging their cash crops at the rate they once did.
"They're running into a situation where the basic levels for cash sales can be considerably lower. There can be quite a spread between what Chicago is offering in the futures market and the cash market," he said.
Gordon, whose organization represents grain elevators and others, said the problem also partly stems from the CME Group's increased margin requirements. The bigger margin requirements are hurting the ability of some in the industry to hedge as much as they'd like.
"We think in part because of the non-traditional influences of capital from hedge funds and index funds...that has widened these basic levels between cash and futures and created, of course, additional market volatility that requires additional capital requirements," he said.
Gordon said the hearing may also focus on lower stocks of grain over the past six years. "Six out of eight years we've had greater demand than production and our wheat stocks are at a 60-year low in the United States," he said.
Also dozens of health care leaders meet in Washington for the Presidential Health Care Agenda Forum Monday to Wednesday. Presidential candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama will both be in attendance.
Tuesday is Earth Day and be sure you'll hear plenty about green business and stocks in the coming week.
Annual meetings will be held by Eli Lilly Monday; Citigroup and Wachovia Tuesday; General Electric (CNBC's parent company) and Office Depot are Wednesday, and Merrill Lynch and Pfizer are Thursday.
The Pennsylvania primary may shed light on who will be the Democratic party's presidential candidate... but then again, it may not.
Meanwhile, President Bush hosts President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Prime Minster Stephen Harper of Canada for the North American Leaders Summit in New Orleans Monday and Tuesday.
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