Lots to rock the market in the week ahead

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The economy may not be in recession but corporate earnings are, and what is forecast to be the worst reporting season in more than six years is about to begin.

But earnings won't be the only catalyst for stocks in the week ahead. It's a busy period with more than a half dozen Fed speakers, and, China, on the back burner lately, could be an issue for markets as it reports a truckload of data — from inflation Monday to GDP and retail sales Friday. Japan's rising yen has made some investors skittish in the past week, and they will certainly be watching Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda when he speaks Tuesday and again in New York on Thursday.

In the coming week, the major banks, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup report earnings, and the quarterly game of beating the lowered bar begins. This is expected to be the third quarter in a row where S&P 500 earnings actually declined, and analysts are currently expecting a drop of 7.9 percent, according to Thomson Reuters.

Read MoreHow to trade the brutal earning season ahead

"What we're seeing is analysts did what they typically have done for the last three years, or maybe even longer. They dramatically cut estimates heading into the quarter, and then we see this big beat," said Savita Subramanian, chief U.S. equity and quantitative strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "We're expecting about a 4 percent beat relative to the what the street is forecasting ... I don't know if that's enough to inspire investors at this point. We had a big rally off of February lows, and a lot of that was just repricing recession risk."

Some strategists say the earnings season could trigger a relief rally, just due to the already lowered expectations. In the past four quarters, 68.5 percent of the S&P 500 companies beat earnings estimates, according to Thomson Reuters.

"I think the market will tread water until we get some corporate earnings reports over the next couple of weeks. That will be the first chance for companies to have some guidance on how business is shaping up in the first half of the year," said Jim McDonald, chief investment strategist at Northern Trust. "We should see a reasonable environment throughout the earnings reporting season."

Subramanian said this quarter is different, and earnings are also challenged by the economy. "What I think is scary about the first quarter is that the two big drags have been earnings and the dollar, but in the first quarter of this year, those drags have been lesser and yes, earnings growth is slated to be worse," she said. "That's not a great setup. The economy seems to have worsened rather than gotten better."

According to Thomson Reuters, earnings per share for the fourth quarter declined 2.9 percent. "We're going to see a big beat but who cares. We see this every quarter ... I think we need something beyond a beat on lowered expectations to get excited about the market. ... What I would get excited about is a big surprise in sales," she said.

Subramanian said she expects the S&P 500 to head to 2,000 at year-end, a slight decline. But she does see a positive for the market in that sentiment is not high. "Right now, in the next 12 months, the best statement I can make about it is it's not loved and positioning is light in U.S. equities," she said.

Read MoreEarnings season often brings volatility spike

Stocks ended the past week lower, with the S&P 500 off 1.2 percent at 2,047. Oil however surged about 8 percent, helped in part by expectations global producers could come to agreement to freeze production when they meet in Doha April 17. West Texas Intermediate settled up 6.6 percent Friday to $39.72 per barrel, its best day since February 2012 when it rallied 12 percent.

Oil analysts expect crude to be volatile into the Doha meeting, and there's plenty of skepticism about a deal being reached at all, since Iran has said it would not freeze, and Saudi Arabia said it would not agree to a freeze if Iran and others don't go along with it.

In the past week, traders watched to see if stocks could decouple from oil, but the two markets diverged only until crude threatened to move toward the $35 threshold or lower. Therefore, the headlines ahead of Doha could bring some volatility.

Read MoreFirst-quarter economy looks bleaker by the day

"Oil is less of a concern to me. Over the intermediate to longer term oil is likely to appreciate over the next 12 months. I think people have misinterpreted the weakness in oil prices to mean economic growth is disappointing. It's not tied to that at all," said McDonald. He said China remains his biggest concern.

Stock traders have been waiting for earnings, to see how the market handles higher valuations in the face of lowered profits — and the comments of executives about the future will be key.

Subramanian and McDonald both said it's too soon for the markets to react to the presidential election, but Subramanian said the uncertainty around the election and the outcome could start to come out in corporate comments about capital spending.

"As we get farther out in the year, they're not particularly thinking about longer-term plans because of the looming uncertainty. I think it might be a replay of 2012," she said.

Strategists do not expect the election to have much impact on markets until the third quarter, when both parties hold conventions. For months, Wall Street's assumption has been that Hillary Clinton will be the winner, and she is currently viewed more positively than GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

McDonald said election years are usually positive for stocks, but that will depend on who wins. "The market does not like insurgent candidates because they don't know what the policies will be. An insurgent on either the Democrat or Republican side would not be welcomed by the market," said McDonald.

Read MoreAfter all the Fed speak, still market confusion

What to watch


Earnings: Alcoa, Pep Boys

9:25 a.m. New York Fed President William Dudley

1 p.m. Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan


Earnings: Fastenal, CSX, Adtran

6 a.m. NFIB survey

8:30 a.m. Import prices

9 a.m. Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker

1 p.m. $24 billion three-year note auction

2 p.m. Federal budget

3 p.m. San Francisco Fed President John Williams

4 p.m. Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker


Earnings: JPMorgan Chase, Commerce Bancshares, Pier 1, Kinder Morgan, Noble

8:30 a.m. Retail sales; PPI

10 a.m. Business inventories

10:30 a.m. EIA oil inventories

1 p.m. $20 billion 10-year note auction

2 p.m. Beige book


Earnings: Bank of America, BlackRock, Wells Fargo, PNC Financial, First Republic Bank, FreeportMcMoRan, Snap-on, Advanced Micro, Delta Air Lines, Shaw Communications, Infosys

8 a.m. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda at CFR, New York

10 a.m. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart; Fed Gov. Jerome Powell at Senate Banking subcommittee

1 p.m. $12 billion 30-year bond auction


Tax day

Earnings: Citigroup, Charles Schwab

8:30 a.m. Empire State survey

9:15 a.m. Industrial production

10 a.m. Consumer sentiment

12:50 p.m. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans

4 p.m. Feb TIC data