The Fed meets in the week ahead, but a commodities meltdown and the mixed earnings season are adding to concerns about global growth and may steal some of its thunder.
The biggest drop in Chinese stocks in eight years Monday set the tone for a rocky week ahead and raises the question of how much the Fed will be concerned about Chinese growth when it meets.
The Federal Open Market Committee is expected to discuss the path to normalizing interest rates during its two-day meeting, but is not expected to make major changes or even suggest when it might raise rates when it releases its statement Wednesday afternoon.
Instead, traders expect to glean more information about the Fed's intentions from economic reports, like the first look at second-quarter GDP, expected Thursday, the employment cost index Friday or the July employment report the following week.
"I think by the end of the week we'll have a better idea," said Gregory Peters, senior investment officer at Prudential Fixed Income. "They clearly want to move off the zero bound. ... If the data allows them to they will. If the data are weaker or more squishy, it makes it hard for them to do it."
Peters said with the market putting odds of a first rate hike at just above 50 percent for September, the Fed may sound a bit more hawkish as it tries to steer the market closer to its intentions. Many economists expect a September rate increase.
Traders are also very much focused on the commodities selling spree, as it is seen as a potential catalyst that could dampen already low inflation and slow the Fed's path to a rate hike. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said the central bank would like to raise rates this year, but the Fed has said its decision would be made based on the economic data and it would like to see inflation moving toward 2 percent.
"Commodities have been selling off ... but I think this last leg down is a wake-up call when you're seeing commodities prices near 2009 lows. That was a major financial crisis. When you see commodities prices back toward that level, that says a lot about global growth," said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at Lindsey Group.
Worries that China will not be able to orchestrate a soft landing have rattled investors around the globe, but have been manifesting themselves in the commodities market selloff. As a result, investors sought the safety of Treasurys and stocks sold off in the past week. "It's not just China. It's all of Asia. It's very mediocre global growth, and a Fed that wants to raise rates and a stock market that's very expensive," said Boockvar.
Commodities have also felt the sting of a higher U.S. dollar and the prospect of rising U.S. rates. The greenback was mixed in the past week, with gains against some commodities-based currencies like the Australian and Canadian dollars but down against the euro.
WTI crude oil futures fell more than 5 percent for the week, breaking below $50 per barrel. futures were down for a fifth week, losing more than 3 percent and trading below the key $1,100 per ounce level. Copper, the bellwether for global growth, was down 4.5 percent, amid concerns that China's demand for raw materials has stalled out.
Stocks were slammed, with the down 2.2 percent to 2,079—its worst week since March 27. The Dow at 17,568 was off 2.9 percent and the Nasdaq was down 2.3 percent at 5,088. The worst sector was commodities-sensitive materials, down 5.5 percent, and energy was next with a 4 percent decline. Industrials, hit by international earnings weakness, slumped 3.8 percent.
More than a quarter of the S&P 500 companies release earnings in the coming week, with names like oil majors Exxon Mobil and Chevron and multinationals like Procter & Gamble reporting. Facebook also reports.
Even with concern about earnings, companies continue to beat estimates at a high rate—74 percent as of Friday, according to Thomson Reuters. But some of the misses have been high-profile names like Apple, Caterpillar, 3M and American Express. Many companies have blamed currency translation and emerging market weakness for their shortfalls.
Citigroup's chief U.S. equities strategist, Tobias Levkovich, said the market's China concerns may be overblown. "We just don't see that threat being imminent. I'm not minimizing the impact of a Chinese economic hard landing. Everything we look at, as a firm, suggests that's not the outcome," he said.
Levkovich said while the earnings may be softer, he expects the second half to pick up and earnings could grow at about 8 percent.
"I'm moderately bullish," he said. "I'm looking at (S&P) 2,200 by year-end, 100 points from now, and I'm looking for 8 percent over the next 12 months."
Levkovich expects earnings to grow by about 2 percent for the first half of 2015, before the second half pickup. "We've got less pressure from the drags of the dollar and energy. And the energy benefits come in in the second half. There's a long lead time. People need to believe those lower prices are permanent, not a blip," he said.
Factors that should help the profit outlook, include higher wages, improving employment, the wealth effect and cheaper energy.
Levkovich said his one concern is a lack of investor enthusiasm. "Investors don't want to be in a believing mode. The money flow's not there. ... It just means we continue to grind higher. This doesn't feel good when you have to fight for every inch," he said.
8:30 am: Durable goods
First day of two-day FOMC meeting
Earnings: BP, DuPont, Ford, Merck, UPS, Pfizer, UBS, JetBlue, Gilead Sciences, Twitter, Yelp, U.S. Steel, Panera Bread, SunPower, AK Steel, Corning, Cummins, Masco, Sturm Ruger, Buffalo Wild Wings, Equity Residential, Express Scripts, LVMH, DR Horton
9:00 am: S&P/Case-Shiller
9:45 am: Services PMI
10:00 am: Consumer confidence
Final day of FOMC meeting
Earnings: Facebook, Samsung, Whole Foods, Barclays, MasterCard, Anthem, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Gannett, Garmin, Nissan, GlaxoSmithKline, Marriott, LaQuinta, Western Digital, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carlyle Group, SolarCity, Shutterfly, Thomson Reuters, WR Grace, Tableau Software, Sonus, Goodyear Tire, American Tower, Total
10:00 am: Pending home sales
2:00 pm: FOMC statement
Earnings: A-B InBev, Procter & Gamble, ConocoPhillips, Delphi Automotive, CME Group, Teva Pharmaceutical, Colgate-Palmolive, Sanofi, Amgen, LinkedIn, Boston Beer, FireEye, Western Union, Brunswick, Stanley Black and Decker, Marathon Petroleum, Starwood, Fiat Chrysler, Mondelez, Deutsche Bank, Diageo
8:30 am: Initial claims
8:30 am: Q2 GDP
8:30 am: Employment cost index
9:45 am: PMI
10:00 am: Consumer sentiment