Market Insider

Bulls push for more new highs but Ukraine looms large

Jobs report preview

Stocks could be pressured by events in Ukraine but it is unlikely to have major impact unless the situation escalates and Western troops get involved.

Analysts say so far the conflict seems as if it will be more economic in nature, with Secretary of State John Kerry calling for economic sanctions and possible asset seizures.

A flight to safety to Treasurys, with the dollar, Swiss franc and yen benefiting is expected.

Marc Chandler, chief currency strategist at Brown Brothers, expects a temporary "wobble" for stocks.

"A little nervousness...but geopolitics unlikely to have lasting impact," he wrote in a quick message

Mark luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery, said markets will be sensitive to the events and headlines but will stay focused on US economic data this week - particularly Friday's jobs report.

"I think it will pressure prices but I don't think it suffocates US economic data. This may be a lot of hubris that dissipates without a conflict. Russian leaders are protecting their sphere of influence but it seems improbable that they would flush the goodwill of Sochi so quickly. If we have actual fighting then equities - particularly European - probably suffer," he said.

Jack Ablin, CIO of BMO Private Bank, said President Obama's track record is not to push direct military conflicts and it would be a big problem for markets if he does now

"I don't thing these are the ingredients for a market plunge," he said. While Crimea may be militarily strategic for Russia, he said its not strategically key to other interests. There are key gas pipelines to the west crossing other parts of Ukraine from Russia.

"I'm hopeful there will be some kind of diplomatic resolution but when there are boots on the ground and ukraine calling for help it's going to create uncertainty and concern for investors," he said.

Siegfried Layda | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

While the markets had been hoping to see a March thaw, a heavy calendar of February data in the week ahead is likely to show the economy is still feeling a bit chilled.

The jobs report is the big number, released Friday and expected to show about 150,000 nonfarm payrolls and an unchanged unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.

If weak, it would be the third in a row to show a slower pace of job growth than last year's trend of closer to 200,000. If it misses. it could again be blamed on unusually severe winter weather.

"The whisper is for weaker," said Tony Crescenzi, strategist and portfolio manager at Pimco. "Markets are braced for a weaker one. ... Strength would not be dismissed but whereas markets would see through weakness, they would take strength at face value." One reason is that there were storms during the survey week for the jobs report.

March's weather might be roaring in like a lion, but the stock market is prancing in like a lamb.

With the at an all-time high and the Dow within striking distance of its high, this March is special in that it's now been five years since the market bottomed. The S&P 500 on March 9, 2009, plunged to the very memorable—and very painful—666 level.

The markets will stay focused on developments in Ukraine, as traders worry that Russia could become more strident, prompting action from Western governments. Reports Friday that Russian troops were in Crimea spooked the market, and wiped out its sharpest gains.

(Read more: Obama: US 'deeplyconcerned' by Crimea situation)

The S&P closed at 1,859.45 on Friday, up 76.86 points or 4.31 percent for the month, its largest gain since October 2013. The Dow ended at 16,321.71 up 3.97 percent in February and now within 266 points of its all-time high. The Nasdaq ended the month at 4,308.12, up 5 percent.

For the week, the S&P rose 1.26 percent, while the Dow gained 1.36 percent, and the Nasdaq increased 1 percent—the only of the three major indexes to increase for four consecutive weeks.

But even so, analysts see further gains, and CEOs are showing more signs of confidence.

Merger activity is at pre-crisis levels, and there's a flurry of IPO activity. At least four IPOs are expected in the coming week, including, an online coupon site.

(Read more: Jobless rate to dip below 6% in 2014: Fed's Bullard)

"We think it has a ways to run. I don't think we're going to have that same kind of pace," said Ed Keon of Quantitative Management Associates. "We're coming up on the five-year anniversary, and we have had 25 percent annualized returns. That pace is not sustainable." Keon said he expects the market to be up about 10 percent this year.

"The market has pretty well decided, and I agree, that some of the weak economic data we've seen in the last couple of months was largely driven by the terrible weather much of the country has had, and it's also likely to impact earnings for the first quarter," said Keon. "You're going to get a weak first-quarter GDP, but I think you'll see plus 3 percent growth for the year overall."

(Read more: US economy lost steam in fourth quarter)

Companies have already been warning about weather impact, and analysts are already shaving earnings estimates. Christian Wetherbee follows railroads at Citigroup, and he chopped 6 percent off first-quarter earnings estimates for the industry because of weaker volumes and higher costs from bad weather.

(Watch: Cramer on Citi fraud: This is not minor)

Wetherbee said those estimates take into account the first two months of the year, and March is a wild card, possibly knocking earnings even lower if the weather stays bad.

Retailers have been reporting weather impact, and several report earnings this week, including Costco and Staples.


The jobs report is the big item for markets in the coming week because it is so key to Fed policy. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said the weather may indeed be a factor in weak employment, and the softer economy in general, and traders are watching to see whether it really is just weather effect or some other factors causing economic slowing.

"Nonfarm payrolls is the big one, but so are auto sales and manufacturing PMI. Those are the three big reports next week and ideally we'd like to see all of them show better than expectations," said Marc Chandler, chief currency strategist for Brown Brothers Harriman.

Auto sales are reported Monday, as is ISM manufacturing and manufacturing PMI.

(Read more: Retail stuck in double helix: Soft sales, margins)

"As far as the data, up until this week, almost every piece of data came in below expectations, and the market didn't appreciate the magnitude of the slowdown, but now we've had durable goods orders, Chicago PMI, better than expected, and new home sales better than expected. These are secondary releases. That's why next week's data is going to be important," said Chandler.

Chandler said markets will also be watching the European Central Bank, which meets Thursday. There is speculation the ECB will cut its 0.25 percent repo rate, but Chandler said the ECB would get more bang if it cuts the lending rate. "They could change the ceiling, cut their lending rate—currently 75 basis points, cut it to 50 basis points," he said.

Investors will also be watching for investor Warren Buffett's letter to investors, to be released this Saturday.


Earnings: Stratasys, Biomarin Pharma, MBIA, Rockwood Holdings

Monthly auto sales

8:30 a.m.: Personal income

8:58 a.m.: Manufacturing PMI

10:00 a.m.: ISM manufacturing

10:00 a.m.: Construction spending


Earnings: AutoZone, Smith & Wesson, Bob Evans, Bank of Nova Scotia, Veeva Systems, ABM Industries, Insys Therapeutics

10:00 a.m.: Senate Banking confirmation hearing for Stanley Fischer for Fed vice chair and Lael Brainard as Fed governor


Earnings: Brown-Forman, Hovnanian, PetSmart, Canadian Solar, Envision Healthcare, Semtech, WuXi Pharma

8:15 a.m.: ADP employment

8:58 a.m.: Services PMI

10:00 a.m.: ISM nonmanufacturing

2:00 p.m.: Beige Book


Earnings: Costco, Joy Global, Kroger, Staples, Cooper Cos, Fresh Market, H&R Block, Finisar, Ciena

Bank of England rates meeting

European Central Bank rate meeting

Monthly chain store sales

8:30 a.m.: Initial claims

8:30 a.m.: Productivity and costs

10:00 a.m.: Factory orders


Earnings: Foot Locker

8:30 a.m.: Employment report

8:30 a.m.: International trade

3:00 p.m.: Consumer credit

—By CNBC's Patti Domm. Follow her on Twitter @pattidomm.