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Janet Yellen and Jamie Dimon could set the tone for Friday's trading

  • JPMorgan is one of three big banks reporting second-quarter earnings Friday, and its CEO Jamie Dimon's comments are closely watched on banking, the economy and markets.
  • Fed Chair Janet Yellen is not speaking Friday, but her comments on concerns about low inflation from earlier this week make the CPI inflation report extremely important for Fed watchers and markets.
  • Retail sales for June will also be reported Friday.

Jamie Dimon and Janet Yellen could set the tone for Friday's trading.

Three big banks — Dimon's JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo — report earnings ahead of Friday's opening bell. There is also consumer price index inflation data at 8:30 a.m., a much-anticipated report that could be market-moving if it is either weaker or stronger than expected. Retail sales for June are also reported at 8:30 a.m.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon attends a policy forum with President Donald Trump in the State Dining Room at the White House, Feb. 3, 2017, in Washington.
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JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon attends a policy forum with President Donald Trump in the State Dining Room at the White House, Feb. 3, 2017, in Washington.

The Fed chair is not speaking Friday, but Yellen's surprising comments on inflation in congressional testimony this week make Friday's CPI an even hotter topic for markets than it normally would be. CPI is expected to rise by a slight 0.1 percent on headline inflation.

Yellen sent bond yields lower Wednesday when she said the central bank is concerned about low inflation and would alter policy if it sees a longer-term trend. Fed officials had previously been emphasizing that they believe the low inflation readings are transitory.

The earnings from the major banks kick off the second-quarter earnings season, which gets very busy next week. JPMorgan is the bellwether for the banking sector, and if CEO Dimon is to speak, markets hang on his comments about his bank, the financial markets and the economy.

Bank stocks have been helped by expectations that interest rates are going higher, and the fact that the Trump administration is pushing deregulation of the sector.

But the Fed may have slightly changed the outlook for interest rates when Yellen discussed the neutral rate and said it was not going much higher, also during her testimony before Congress this week.

"It's going to be important with the Fed sitting on their hands. How are the banks doing, without help from the yield curve?" said Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS.

Core CPI, excluding food and gasoline, is expected to rise 0.2 percent, at a year-over-year pace of 1.7 percent, which is below the Fed's 2 percent target and below the more than 2 percent pace it was at last year.

Another big data point for markets will be the retail sales, expected to be up 0.1 percent on the headline after a decline of 0.3 percent in May. Without autos, retail sales are expected to be up 0.2 percent.

"The story here is we've had this big slowdown in the auto industry, which I think is legitimate," said Ethan Harris, head of global economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

"The auto industry has been driving sales aggressively with subprime lending and leasing agreements," Harris said. "They've pulled sales forward. I think the sector is peaking. It's the only major cyclical part of the economy that's cooled off. I don't think it's a sign of a broader weakening in the economy. I think it's specific to autos.

"The case for the consumer is still pretty good," he said. "You have a strong job market, very strong wealth accumulation in recent years."

There is also industrial production at 9:15 a.m., and consumer sentiment and business inventories, both at 10 a.m.

The Dow closed at a record high Thursday, rising 20 to 21,553. Stocks got a lift as retailers rallied on an improved outlook from Target, but Cashin said the market also got some help from Washington. He said the fact that senators were not immediately rejecting the revised health-care bill was a good sign.

"People are discussing it. That gave people hope," said Cashin. "The mere fact it wasn't dead on arrival gave some people hope for tax reform."

Political strategists say they expect a tax-reform bill to be presented in the fall and approved by next year, but the markets have doubted whether tax reform is still viable based on how long it has taken Congress to revise Obamacare.