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Blast of financial earnings, oil, and economics

Early morning earnings reports from major financial companies and a few economic reports, including industrial production, could set the tone for Wednesday's markets.

But ahead of that, traders will be watching an overnight report on China's first-quarter GDP and the outcome of the European Central Bank's meeting and 8:30 a.m. ET press briefing, just ahead of the New York opening bell. The ECB is not expected to take action, but it could discuss quantitative easing, and that could affect the currency market.

The oil market and the dollar could also be factors for markets, after a flare-up in crude futures prices Tuesday helped give energy stocks and the broader stock market a lift. The dollar slipped after moving higher against the euro early in the day.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Earnings are expected from Bank of America, US Bancorp, BlackRock, Charles Schwab and PNC Financial ahead of the market open. Delta Air Lines also reports. After the bell, reports are expected from Netflix, Kinder Morgan, Universal Forest Products and Wintrust Financial.

Financial company earnings are expected to grow by 12 percent in what is expected to be a down quarter for the S&P 500, according to Thomson Reuters. Jack Ablin, CIO of BMO Private Bank, pointed to J.P. Morgan, which beat targets Wednesday and saw its stock leap ahead to a 15-year high.

Ablin said it would be a positive for the stock market if financials could lead the market, and the industry has shaken off much of the overhang from the financial crisis. "It's like baseball after steroids. Baseball is a better game. There's no steroids creating artificial imbalances, but the problem is it's boring and no one likes it anymore, and we're trying to figure out how to speed it up," he said.

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Other earnings Tuesday included Intel, and its shares climbed in after-hours trading after its profits came in line with reduced expectations. CSX shares also jumped after its after-the-bell report.

"Earnings are coming in better than expected and the outlooks are mixed. So that's pretty good," said Ablin. Earnings for the S&P 500 are expected to decline by nearly 3 percent in the first down quarter in six years. The strong dollar and the steep decline in oil prices are largely to blame.

Markets will also be watching economic reports, with industrial production at 9:15 a.m. The Empire State survey is at 8:30 a.m. and the National Association of Home Builders survey is at 10 a.m. The Fed's Beige Book on the economy will be important at 2 p.m., and there is Treasury data on international capital flows at 4 p.m.

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There is a flurry of Fed speakers, including Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, who is on a panel on macroprudential tools at the IMF spring meeting at 10:30 a.m. ET. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard speaks at 9 a.m. on the economy and monetary policy, and Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker speaks at 8:30 a.m. on investing for long-term prosperity.

Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York at 8:15 a.m. ET, and traders will be watching for any comments on Greece.

As for data, China's economic growth is expected to have slowed to 7 percent in the first three months of the year, according to a Reuters poll.

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"We could see a weaker number, which would be scary to the fixed-income market. That would be a catalyst for a pretty decent rally," said Tyler Tucci, short-term markets and derivatives strategist at RBS.

Treasurys rallied Tuesday after March's U.S. retail sales came in at 0.9 percent, short of the 1.1 percent expected. Tucci said traders were positioned for a strong number and some were forced to cover shorts. The 10-year yield fell as low as 1.85 percent but was at 1.89 percent later in the day.

Stocks finished mixed Tuesday, with the Dow up 59 at 18,036 and the S&P 500 up 3 at 2,095. The Nasdaq fell 10 to 4,977. The best-performing sector was energy, up 1.8 percent.

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Oil stocks followed oil prices higher. West Texas Intermediate rallied 2.7 percent to $53.29, amid speculation that U.S. production is declining and that OPEC could cut its production after Iran's oil minister called on the cartel to cut back at its June meeting.

U.S. oil and gasoline inventory data is released at 10:30 a.m. ET.