With the market nervously wondering whether the Federal Reserve will start to reduce their quantitative easing program, a few critical clues could come this week. Between Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech on Tuesday night and the release of FOMC minutes on Wednesday, investors will seek to determine whether a December taper is now on the table.
In addition, the intense, taper-related scrutiny of the jobs market will give Thursday's initial jobless claims data an added importance.
"The week, we really want to be focused on the typical Fed kind of talk—but I also want to look at that jobless claims number, because the Fed is very dependent on data for their December meeting," said Jeff Kilburg of KKM Financial. "So keep an eye on all the data points once again."
George Goncalves, the head of U.S. rates strategy at Nomura, expects the minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee's October meeting to be much more revealing than Bernanke's Washington speech.
"We believe that Bernanke will continue to emphasize the committee views and be more balanced, so as not to steal the thunder of Janet Yellen as she takes over eventually," Goncalves wrote to CNBC.com. But "the minutes could be revealing, because the last meeting statement was perceived on the hawkish side, so any insights on the Fed's next steps and their thoughts on fiscal issues will be keenly watched."
All eyes are on the Fed's December 18th statement, which will be followed by a press conference. Just a week before Christmas, the Fed could finally make the long-awaited (and long-feared) announcement that they will reduce the pace of their $85 billion-per-month bond buying program.
(Read more: You're wrong—QE has not boosted stocks: McKinsey)
In fact, Andrew Wilkinson, the chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak, said that markets ignore that possibility at their own peril.
"In the market, there is too much emphasis based on the lack of a potential for imminent tapering," Wilkinson said. "But this is certainly something that could happen at the December meeting."
After all, Wilkinson hearkens back to the September meeting, when the Fed strongly signaled tapering, before keeping the pace of asset purchases consistent.
"It's been proven that this is data-dependent and at the mercy of the development of the economy, but we're back to the sort of data we had in September that created a groundswell of opinion—provoked by the chairman—that the Fed would begin tapering," he said. "Everyone knows that bond purchases are going to come to an end at some point. And if you look at the payroll numbers, I think they are probably strong enough. It suggests that the Fed is prepared to look at the cumulative improvement in the labor market and say in December that it's an appropriate time to move."
(Read more: Get ready for a Christmas rally: Trader)
So with Bernanke's speech, the FOMC minutes, and the initial jobless claims all possibly shedding light on the tapering timeline, how are markets likely to respond this week?
"I'm going to look for bond markets to push lower as we get further guidance from the Fed, " said Todd Gordon of TradingAnalysis.com.