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Tuesday Look Ahead: With Greece Drama on Hold, Focus Turns to Earnings

The focus shifts to corporate earnings, now that the European Union has crafted a plan to rescue Greece.

Oliver Quilla for CNBC.com

In another important signal to global markets, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao met in Washington Monday, showing a willingness to cooperate despite their differences. The two met on the sidelines of the nuclear summit, and China's currency policy and trade were topics of discussion. The White House called the talks constructive.

The Greek fiscal crisis is not going away, but markets had a temporary reprieve from the drama surrounding it. The Dow drifted slightly higher Monday to 11,005, its first close above 11,000 in 18-months. The S&P 500, finished up 2 at 1196, just shy of 1200 -- a level where some strategists see the index finishing the year.

"This has been a long and rather embarrassing saga for the EU, to put it mildly...The more serious issue is the longer term ability of Greece to do what it says it's going to try to do. Then there's the issue of what happens next time," said George Magnus, senior economic advisor to UBS Investment Bank in London. Should Greece seek funding, the EU has agreed in principle to lend Greece up to 30 billion euros at a rate of about 5 percent, and the IMF is willing to lend another 15 billion euros at a lower rate.

"They could not risk the likelihood of a default happening. This is sort of a Bear Stearns moment," Magnus said. Greece was expected to auction 1.2 billion euros of 26- and 52-week bills Tuesday morning, in its first issuance since the accord.

Stock traders, meanwhile, are gearing up for corporate earnings season, which may create more tension for the stock market than has been seen in the six weeks preceding it. Alcoa was the first blue chip to report. It reported a narrower than expected loss, but its miss on revenues took the stock lower after the bell Monday.

Alcoa reported a first quarter loss of $201 million, or $0.20 per share, and revenues were $4.9 billion, compared to the expected $5.24 billion. Alcoa said it expects to benefit from a rebound in auto production and sees global aluminum consumption increasing by 10 percent in 2010, helped by strong demand from China and improvements in the U.S. and Europe.

Intel and CSX report profits after Tuesday's bell.

"My opinion is the market's going down," said Tim Smalls of Execution LLC, noting the market has not seen a 1 percent decline since early February.

Smalls said the market could be in for a shallow pull back if history is a guide. "Earnings start today. Go back to October, go back to January, when companies started reporting earnings. We had a market that rallied into earnings, had a dull peak around the time Alcoa reported and started selling off and reversing when Intel reported, and Intel reports tomorrow."

Earnings for the S&P 500 are expected to rise more than 30 percent for the first quarter, and revenues are expected to improve by at least 10 percent, the first double-digit increase in seven quarters.

What to Watch

International trade for February is reported at 8:30 a.m., as are import prices. The NFIB small business survey is released at 7:30 a.m. It is closely watched for business sentiment and hiring trends. Revenues have so far been the disappointing laggard in the earnings recovery, and analysts are watching to see if companies can turn the tide this quarter and show topline growth. Earnings gains so far have been boosted by lower costs, from job cuts and elsewhere.

There are a few Fed speeches to watch Tuesday. Fed Gov. Daniel Tarullo speaks at 10:45 a.m. in Washington, and Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker speaks on the economic outlook at 7:15 p.m in Morgantown, W. Va. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks at 7 p.m. to the National Bankers Association Foundation Literacy Summit on financial literacy.

The Senate Permanent Panel on Investigations will hear from former Washington Mutual CEO Kerry Killinger on how the thrift failed at a 9:30 a.m. hearing.

Dollar Daze

The euro rose as high as $1.3692 after the EU's Sunday announcement. It was trading at about $1.3575 late Monday.

Magnus said the euro's rise could be temporary, and that investors will be watching the political aftermath in the euro zone. "If the euro oversight problem basically calms down over the next three or four months, possibly the euro could bounce again. It could get to $1.40 or north of $1.40. To be honest, I think this is all kind of noise. If you were looking for an important breakout, euro goes to $1.60 or falls to parity. The more likely of those two is it falls to parity, though I would not say over the next three or four months. It would be 12 to 18 months," Magnus said.

China Rising

In a much anticipated meeting, Hu met with Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and was encouraged by Obama to let the Chinese currency rise against the dollar. The yuan's dollar peg has been a point of contention with the U.S., as it's viewed as giving China an unfair trade advantage. Members of Congress escalated the disagreement by proposing legislation that would take China to task on its currency policy.

In the past week, however, the tensions between the two countries have eased, as it appeared China would move towards letting its currency appreciate. Geithner visited China in an unscheduled visit last week. He was present in the meeting between Hu and Obama Monday, as were Chinese officials.

In a release carried on Xinhua, Hu said China will stick to its own path for yuan reform. He said China does not intend to have a permanent trade surplus with the U.S. and that it will take further measures to increase imports form the U.S. China this past weekend reported its first monthly trade deficit in six years in March.

"There's been a few confidence building measures over the last week or two. The mood music suggests there is going to be some response from China more at the time of its choosing, rather than Tim Geithner's. Whatever they do is going to be too little, too late," Magnus said. He said if China was going to make a big difference, it would let the currency move dramatically, but it will most likely let it move just a few percent a year. "They may once off adjust it up front with a hint of more flexibility to come," he said.

Hu also agreed with Obama to put pressure on Iran for its nuclear program, but the two still do not agree on what tactics to use.

Questions? Comments? Email us at marketinsider@cnbc.com

  • Patti Domm

    Patti Domm is CNBC Executive Editor, News, responsible for news coverage of the markets and economy.

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