Stocks enter the coming week on a steadier footing, with lots of economic data and earnings that could help determine whether the economy is slowing or not.
Friday's January jobs report is the highlight of the economic calendar, which also includes personal income and spending, as well as ISM manufacturing data on Monday. Auto sales are reported Tuesday, and ISM nonmanufacturing data are Wednesday. About a fifth of the S&P 500 companies report earnings, including big oil like Exxon Mobil and BP; pharma giants, Merck and Pfizer; and Alphabet (Google).
Stocks were higher in the past week, the second in a row, as oil also steadied and West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 4.4 percent. The was up 1.7 percent at 1,940, while the Dow climbed 2.3 percent to 16,466. Both were down more than 5 percent for the month, their worst January performance since 2009.
Traders will be picking over the coming week's data after Friday's fourth-quarter GDP report showed a sputtering growth rate of 0.7 percent. Economists expect a rebound – above 2 percent this quarter – but the contraction in manufacturing and other spotty data have raised worries among investors about a more significant U.S. slowdown, given China's weakness.
"I think this turns out to be a growth scare, and if you have a long enough horizon you should be at least not selling," said Jeffrey Mortimer, director of investment strategy at BNY Mellon Wealth Management. "There are some unknowns, and it's going to be choppy for a while."
Mortimer said Fed policy, oil, slowing China and the debt burden in developing markets, are all among variables he's watching.
"We're still in the camp of 'we avoid recession,' and so dips for the most part should either be leaned into or at least hold steady, if you like your allocation heading into them," said Mortimer. "If you look at corrections that happen in markets that are not associated with future recessions, they are buying opportunities. These things happen every couple years. Growth scares usually set them off."
Central banks have helped lift stocks in the past two weeks, first when the European Central Bank said it would consider more easing in March, and then the Bank of Japan on Friday shocked markets with negative interest rates. Both events gave a lift to equities — and the dollar — and now raise questions about whether the Fed can go forward with a rate hike in the very near future.
The Fed's caution this past week on the U.S. and global economy spurred speculation that it will not raise rates, at least at its March meeting, as once forecast by economists.
The central bankers could certainly be a factor for markets in the week ahead. Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer speaks Monday afternoon on the economy, while European Central Bank President Mario Draghi speaks the same day at the EU parliament on the ECB annual report. Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda speaks Wednesday, and the BOJ releases minutes of its December meeting that day.
The Friday U.S. jobs report could also be a big market mover, after December's data surprised to the upside with 292,000 payrolls. Economists expect 190,000 nonfarm payrolls, and an unchanged unemployment rate of 5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters.
"I'm looking for payroll growth at roughly 100,000 less than it was last month. I don't think last month was sustainable. The labor market is still in a pretty good place," said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies.
Michelle Meyer, deputy head of U.S. economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said weather should play a role in the number, since it may have boosted December jobs by 100,000. The warm weather probably led to the creation of more construction and other jobs in that month, but the cold weather snap and storms of late January may have bitten into job growth.
"We're at 170,000, which is a little bit below the consensus. I think it's going to be a little bit of a difficult report to interpret because of the weather impact," she said.
Meyer said there should be continued losses of jobs in the mining and energy sectors. She said oil prices have stayed low for longer than expected, and companies may now be forced to let go workers they were trying to retain because of the costs of firing and rehiring.
ISM manufacturing is also important in the coming week because it has been the manufacturing sector that's been feeling the pain of the stronger dollar and commodities market turmoil.
"We think the ISM manufacturing will slip modestly in January to 48 from 482. The consensus has been a bit of an increase," she said. Below 50, the ISM is signaling contraction and manufacturing is now in recession, but she said it does not mean the U.S. will head into recession. "Typically the breakeven in Manufacturing ISM to indicate a recession in the overall economy is a 43 print, and we're not there yet."
Meyer said the weak GDP number did contain one silver lining and that was that consumer spending was better than expected, although it did slow. The consumer drives a much larger part of the economy.
"We have a very unbalanced economy. The services sector is on solid footing. Construction is doing fine. Mining, manufacturing and energy are in a devastated conditions right now," said McCarthy. "A lot of it is related to what's happening overseas and what's happening on the commodities front." McCarthy said the question now is whether oil and commodities are starting the process of bottoming.
Meyer said oil prices have complicated the outlook. "What's interesting is you can identify the shocks, and you can identify the sectors that are most sensitive to the shocks. It makes sense manufacturing is weak and capex is slowing but trying to time the turns and the magnitude of the weakness is challenging. What we learned last year was we underestimated the negative impact of falling oil prices, and we overstated the positive impact on the consumer," said Meyer.
She said now a concern is the slowdown in corporate profits could impact the real economy. Earnings for the fourth quarter are expected to be down 4.1 percent, but energy earnings are seen down about 75 percent, according to Thomson Reuters.
Mortimer said there is a greater threat of recession, but he does not expect one. "In our base case, recession is avoided and markets have a decent back half of the year," he said.
The dollar is another factor to watch in the week ahead, and how the maneuvering of central banks affects currency markets.
"My take on (BOJ) is it's a shot across the bow at China," said McCarthy. "Japan's not going to sit on its hands forever if China keeps trying to manipulate its currency movements. It's a little bit perplexing to see how the BOJ and PBOC are going to react to each other. It's in everybody's interest to resolve differences behind closed doors. You have to hope they don't engage in active currency warfare. I think everybody realizes that's not in anybody's interests. It's possible but it would be self-defeating and I think in the end that will dissuade them from doing so."
What to watch
Earnings: Alphabet, Aetna, Ryanair, Sysco, Anadarko Petroleum, Cardinal Health, Mattel, Leggett and Platt, Rent-A-Center, Tesoro, Aflac, Cabot, Hain Celestial
8:30 a.m. Personal income
9:45 a.m. Manufacturing PMI
10 a.m. ISM manufacturing; construction spending
1 p.m. Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer at CFR, New York
2 p.m. Senior loan officer survey
Earnings: Exxon Mobil, BP, LVMH, UPS, Pfizer, UBS, Chipotle, Gilead Sciences, Archer Daniels Midland, Yahoo, Royal Carribbean, Nintendo, Michael Kors, Dow Chemical, Kimco Realty, Match Group, Equity Residential, IAC/Interactive, Church and Dwight, Sirius XM
Monthly vehicle sales
1 p.m. Kansas City Fed President Esther George on the economy
Earnings: General Motors, Comcast, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Mondelez, Alexion Pharma, Performance Food, Buffalo Wild Wings, Yum Brands, Shutterfly, GoPro, MetLife, Marathon Petroleum, Becton Dickinson, Humana, Southern Co, International Paper, ManpowerGroup, Timken, Take Two Interactive, Suncor, Boston Properties, CBOE
8:15 a.m. ADP employment
9:45 a.m. Services PMI
10 a.m. ISM nonmanufacturing
Earnings: Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum, Clorox, Credit Suisse, Cummins, Delphi Automotive, Ralph Lauren, Cigna, Statoil, AstraZeneca, LinkedIn, Tableau Software, Virtu Financial, Madison Square Garden, Netgear, Beazer Homes, Dunkin Brands, NY Times, News Corp, Lions Gate
8:30 a.m. Initial claims; productivity and costs
10 a.m. Factory orders
5 p.m. Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester on economy, policy
8:30 a.m. Employment report; international trade
3 p.m. Consumer credit