Fed speakers Thursday should say just what it discussed at its last meeting — a rate hike could be coming in December if the economy is strong enough.
Speakers from the central bank include Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester who will appear on CNBC's "Squawk Box" at 8:30 a.m. EST. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart speaks at the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce in Georgia at 12:30 p.m. ET, and Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer will be at the San Francisco Fed at 4:45 p.m. ET, discussing emerging Asia.
There are also weekly jobless claims and the Philadelphia Fed survey, both at 8:30 a.m., as well as leading indicators at 10 a.m. The claims are expected to be lower than last week, at about 270,000.
"From the Fed speakers what we'll continue to get is the message that conditions continue to look like they could be raising rates in December," said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies. McCarthy said central bank officials should also be deliberate in pointing out that the path of rate hikes should be slow.
The Fed released minutes from its Oct. 28 meeting Wednesday afternoon. The bond market barely budged but stocks rallied. The closed up 33 points at 2,083, in its best performance since Oct. 22.
"For the most part, they told us what we already knew from the policy statement and the barrage of comments that we've heard from Fed officials since the last meeting. Without precommitting they are inclined to raise rates on Dec. 16 and the minutes confirmed that. The Treasury market was locked in on the Fed and there was nothing new," said McCarthy.
"The stock market to a large degree, the reaction was like the reaction of going to the dentist. There's been a lot of angst about the Fed raising rates ... I think one of the reasons they're talking liftoff is that they're optimistic, and the Fed being optimistic is good news for the stock market."
The S&P 500 is up nearly 3 percent week to date, defying strategists and traders who expected it to continue last week's sell-off in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.
"I just think that we went through the earnings season. There's just not a lot of alternatives for money. I know the Fed's going to raise rates, but if you have investable dollars, where else do they go?" said Steve Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Securities.
Massocca said he doesn't see a reason for a big sell-off, but he's not terribly positive either.
"I don't see any reason for the market to break out to new highs. I don't think we're going to see 2,200 higher. There's a lot of areas of the market that are doing very poorly. It's a very mixed bag right now, so looking at an index, it's hard to draw a conclusion because there's so many individual stories out there." He said everybody likes a handful of stocks, such as Amazon.com and Netflix.
The Fed may raise rates in December by 25 basis points, but Massocca said it's not likely the central bank will do much more next year and that shouldn't hurt stocks.
"My view is they want to get off zero but I don't think they do much more than that," he said. "I'm seeing a lot of fear and loathing in interest rate sensitive areas — end of cycle concerns, commodities concerns, international concerns. It's not an environment where the Fed is going to get particularly frisky."
Besides the Fed and data Thursday, there are still a few retail names reporting earnings. Best Buy and The Buckle report ahead of the open, as does JM Smuckers. Gap, Ross Stores, Williams-Sonoma and Fresh Market report after the bell, as do Autodesk, Intuit, Mentor Graphics and Splunk.