China, oil still hanging over Wall Street

Overnight news will likely again be key for stock market action Tuesday.

First, Wall Street is watching China for any further weakening in the yuan and the action in the local stock market. Stabilization in the yuan on Monday helped U.S. equities close mixed, despite a sharp decline in mainland Chinese stocks and a plunge in oil prices.

Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer is due to speak at 5:30 a.m. ET, and reiteration of the likelihood of four rate hikes this year could further unsettle investors who are uncertain about whether the U.S. economy is strong enough to support that pace of tightening.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

"Overnight is going to set the tone. We'll look at the data and maybe some Fed comments," said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. "This is a very fluid environment."

Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker is also due to speak Tuesday afternoon.

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The National Federation of Independent Business' Small Business Optimism Index for December is due at 6 a.m. ET, while the November Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey is due at 10 a.m. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said the JOLTS report is her preferred gauge on labor.

The data on the employment sector will be in focus for indications on the health of the U.S. economy and the consumer, although Tuesday's JOLTS report predates the December nonfarm payrolls report that showed strong jobs growth.

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"You really need to watch the employment situation. That could be the last ball that drops," said John Caruso, senior market strategist at RJO Futures. He said the other two key areas, corporate earnings and consumer spending, are already showing signs of softness.

In the unofficial start to earnings season, Alcoa reported quarterly earnings that beat, but revenue slightly below expectations. Sales fell 18 percent year over year as lower aluminum and alumina prices weighed, offset slightly by the company's aerospace business.

IHS is due before the bell and CSX and Progress Software are due to report results after the close Tuesday, ahead of JPMorgan Chase earnings scheduled for Thursday.

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Commodities and related stocks will remain in focus Tuesday after U.S. oil and Brent crude fell below $32 a barrel in intraday trading Monday to near 12-year lows.

Copper also hit a near-seven-year low, contributing to sharp declines in Freeport-McMoRan. The copper and gold producer closed down 20 percent, at $4.31 a share.

U.S. stocks struggled to hold gains Monday, before the S&P 500 closed up 1.64 points at 1,923.67 and the Dow Jones industrial average rose 52.12 points to 16,398.57. The Nasdaq composite slipped 5.64 points to 4,637.99, for its eighth-straight day of declines.

The Dow and Nasdaq remain more than 10 percent from their 52-week intraday highs, in correction territory, while the S&P 500 held within 10 percent of that high in the close.

"It seems to feel like we're seeing a little of a bottoming process in this correction, but we (need to) see a little more definitive move in that some folks are willing to go out there and buy," said Jeff Carbone, co-founder and managing partner of Cornerstone Financial Partners.

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"Ultimately I think 2016 is going to be fine but it's starting off bumpy," he said.

To be sure, China remains the wildcard as investors seek to parse what policy announcements and market action indicate about the pace of a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy and the impact to global growth. No major economic figures out of China are due before Tuesday's U.S. trading session.

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"There had been hope into the end of the year that China would stabilize but these early movements and the increased volatility in stocks and the currency have brought back similar fears that existed in August," said Jordi Visser, president and chief investment officer of Weiss Multi-Strategy Advisers, which has $1.4 billion in assets under management.

"From a positioning standpoint, most investors still seem to be positioned for the industrial side of their economy given the extended weakness for energy, material, industrial and shipping sectors," he said. "The difference so far in the first week of this year that there are growing fears that this weakness could start to spill into the service side of the global economy."

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