"To me, the real story next week is do we get a breakout in the S&P," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. "There's enough people betting against it that a close above it would send some people scurrying to cover…. Earnings season has not been the disaster that was expected. I think energy is going to be a place with the most upside surprises." S&P energy sector earnings are expected to be down more than 60 percent.
The big event for the week is the Fed's two-day meeting, but Fed watchers are not really looking for any new developments and it is likely to continue to send a relatively dovish signal to the markets. "The only thing the Fed can do that would really change the market's concept of monetary policy right now is to clearly put June back on the table, and I don't think that's in the offing," said Hogan.
The recent string of weak data and first-quarter growth expected at just about 1 percent have convinced many in the markets that the Fed will not move to raise interest rates until September at the earliest.
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Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management, said technicals could take over in the coming week, since the market has already gotten a good sense of the earnings season. If the S&P does start to take off, it could take aim at 2,200 before a pullback.
"Let's just say, it made a nice run and broke through 2,150 promptly. That would be another significant advance. That would capture some attention," he said. Paulsen said oil, up about 3 percent in the past week, and euro/dollar may also be looking to break recent levels.
Paul Richards, UBS head of fx rates and credit distribution for the Americas, said he expects a favorable resolution for Greek's debt struggles, and the situation is more optimistic that the market currently reflects. "I think the euro is going to trend back to 1.105 on Greek optimism and slightly weaker U.S. data," Richards said. He expects a "slight dollar down week, and a good week for equities, and I think Treasurys are steady."
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Richards said the Fed is unlikely to provide any surprises, so the next big piece of information for the market will be the April nonfarm payrolls on May 8, after March's weak 126,000 jobs.
"I think the markets will steadily drift higher. The 'risk on' scenario remains and then there are three or four days before payrolls where the market could correct slightly. Next week should be fine, and then a nervous week going into payrolls. I see payrolls as a binary event," he said.
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He said the payrolls number could be a big market mover in either direction, since the markets are waiting for a next clue on the Fed's thinking on rates. The April jobs report was well below the recent trend, and economists are waiting to see if it was a once off. "We kind of lost April because of that Good Friday (March jobs) number. The markets didn't know how to take it. The market really is looking for some direction here," he said.
As stocks rallied in the past week, the Nasdaq regained its 15-year high. It ended the week at 5,092, up 3.3 percent, but still below its intraday high of 5,132. The Dow rose 1.4 percent to 18,080.
West Texas Intermediate oil futures ended the week at $57.15, a gain of about 3 percent.
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