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Traders watch for imported earnings weakness, data

Traders will be on the lookout in the week ahead for any signs of overseas weakness seeping into the U.S. economy, after surprisingly soft job growth in August and September.

Trade data Tuesday and ISM services sector data Monday will be important as will the weekly jobless claims and Fed minutes Thursday.

The markets will also be looking to the start of the third-quarter earnings season, with Pepsico, Alcoa and a few other companies reporting in the week ahead. Earnings are expected to decline 3.9 percent for the S&P 500, according to Thomson Reuters.

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

"I think for the next week and the following week, the market is dealing with a lot of uncertainty," said Ron Sanchez, chief investment officer at Fiduciary Trust. "(The jobs) number was not well received in terms of it being a surprise. Sentiment is weak here. I would describe it as fragile. … The focus is on growth, and clarity regarding economic data."

September's 142,000 jobs and a downward revision in August's number to 136,000, instantly rocked the stock market and signaled that the Fed may not be able to raise rates this year, as it would like. It also raised concerns that the Fed may have been right when it held off a rate hike in September, saying it was worried international developments, like China's weak growth, could hurt the U.S. economy.

"I think there's been some economists out there saying it shows real slowing in the U.S. economy. I don't really buy that," said BlackRock co-head of Americas fixed income, Rick Rieder. "What our collective eyes will be on for the next month is outside the U.S. It's data that has to do with Chinese growth and it's data that has to do with manufacturing around the world. That's what we're going to be watching. U.S. growth, I don't think, is a big concern."

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Rieder said the miss in the jobs report was not surprising since employment growth has been running at a high level for the past two years. Rieder has said he believes the Fed could have raised rates previously, but now it faces a period of slower jobs growth. Fed officials, backed by a strong job market, have said they want to raise rates this year, even though inflation still lagged their target.

"This makes the Fed's job trickier," he said. Futures markets immediately shifted after the report, putting higher odds of a rate hike next year.

Economists are watching trade data Tuesday after a preliminary report on August exports provided some of the first clues that overseas growth was impacting the U.S. China does not have a big impact on U.S. exports but the countries that depend on China have relationships with the U.S., and a slowdown in activity could come via those economies.

"We know trade was a disaster in August, so this will just reconfirm it. Economists, myself included, have whacked their GDP forecasts in the third quarter based on the widening of the trade balance that we got. This will just be another shot across the bow with a tremendous widening of the trade balance, which will knock a good half-percent off of real GDP," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.

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Growth in the second quarter is now tracking at sub-2 percent after 3.9 percent in the second quarter. The question is whether the sluggishness is just transitory. In the Treasury market, yields fell dramatically with the 10-year dipping below 2 percent Friday.

"I think you just have to wait and see what happens next Monday or Tuesday. I doubt the economy is as weak as the bond market is painting it. I don't really want to take December off the table (for a Fed rate hike)," Rupkey said. "There's 18.1 million cars (being sold a year). There's got to be a reality check somewhere here." September's strong car sales Thursday showed the fastest pace of annualized sales in 10 years.

As for the stock market, some strategists have been looking at the 1,871 level the S&P 500 hit Tuesday as a test of a low reached in August. There are some who say the recovery from that level, including a rally to close at session highs Friday, is signaling a bottom in the equities correction. The S&P 500 closed at 1,951 on Friday, up 1.04 percent for the week.

The upcoming earnings season could be a deciding factor in terms of determining whether a bottom has been reached and whether there will be a year-end rally.

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Bob Doll, chief equity strategist with Nuveen Asset Management, said there could be a year-end rally but he also says stocks may not surpass last year's level and there's a good chance the S&P 500 could be negative for the year.

"Earnings are clearly important, and my guess is earnings will be ho-hum, but the big differentiator will be geography. I think the domestic will do reasonably well and multinationals will struggle again," he said.

The worst-performing sector is expected to again be energy with a 64 percent decline, followed by a 14 percent drop in materials earnings. The best performers should be consumer discretionary, financials and telecom, all up about 11 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

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Wells Fargo Securities institutional equities strategist Gina Martin Adams said technically the market could have reached bottom but she sees the real shakeout coming when companies begin to discuss their outlooks and analysts chop forward earnings. She said analysts will finally bring down their earnings estimates so that stocks can find a floor and move higher with better valuations.

"I think the 10 percent correction we had so far probably holds, unless you get further weakness in oil prices," she said. "I think this earnings season could present an opportunity for analysts to finally kitchen sink 2015 earnings estimates. We had the valuation drawdown. I don't think valuation is any longer a strong impediment to stock prices. Now we're worried about the earnings risk. … I'm looking for October to be a pretty volatile month but maybe it will finally allow for a clearance of that last leg of concern."

Adams said she views the current period as being similar to 1998, when the U.S. market corrected because of overseas concerns that did not make a big impact on the U.S. economy.

What to watch

Monday

Earnings: The Container Store

9:45 a.m.: PMI Services Index

10 a.m.: ISM non-manufacturing

Tuesday

Earnings: Pepsico, Yum Brands

8:30 a.m.: International trade

1 p.m.: 3-year note auction

5:30 p.m.: San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams speaks

Wednesday

Earnings: Monsanto, Constellation Brands, Acuity Brands

7 a.m.: Mortgage applications

10:30 a.m.: Oil Inventories

1 p.m.: 10-year note auction

3 p.m.: Consumer credit

Thursday

Earnings: Alcoa, Domino's Pizza, Ruby Tuesday

8:30 a.m.: Initial claims

9:30 a.m.: St. Louis Fed President James Bullard speaks

10:30 a.m.: Natural Gas Inventories

1 p.m.: 30-year note auction

1 p.m.: Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota speaks

2 p.m.: FOMC minutes

3:30 p.m.: San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams speaks

4:30 p.m.: Fed Balance Sheet/Money Supply

Friday

8:30 a.m.: Import prices

10 a.m.: Wholesale trade

11 a.m.: New York Fed President's William Dudley speaks

1 p.m.: Baker-Hughes Rig Count

1:30 p.m.: Chicago Fed President's Charles Evans speaks.