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What to watch in markets this week: North Korea, retail earnings ... oh, and the Fed

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Spencer Platt | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

It feels like anything but a summer vacation for Wall Street lately.

The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones industrial average ended their second-worst week of the year on Friday. The Nasdaq composite fell for the third straight week, marking its longest weekly losing streak since June 2016.

Investors and traders were rattled by rising tensions between the United States and North Korea, while lackluster inflation data made them reassess the likelihood of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates later this year.

Meanwhile, earnings season continued as some of the biggest U.S. retailers, including, Macy's, Kohl's and Michael Kors, released their quarterly scorecards.

This week will be key for investors as they keep an eye on U.S.-North Korea tensions, try to figure out what's next for the Federal Reserve and digest more retail earnings.

The U.S. and North Korea are still on Wall Street's sights

A war of words between North Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump escalated last week.

On Tuesday, Trump warned that North Korea would face "fire and fury" if it continued to issue threats against the U.S. North Korea responded by saying it was considering a plan to strike Guam with mid- to long-range missiles. Trump doubled down on Thursday, saying his "fire and fury" comments may not have been "tough enough."

Trump went further, tweeting: "Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!"

Even though the exchanges between the two nations didn't go beyond words, they were enough to rattle investors.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, soared 55 percent last week, its biggest weekly gain since December 2015. The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones industrial, meanwhile, posted their second-worst week of the year.

If tensions between North Korea and the Trump administration subside, the market could resume its stellar, upward trajectory from earlier this year. If not, we could see further losses in stocks.

More retail earnings coming up

The overall earnings season may be winding down, but it's just getting started for retailers.

Several big-name retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot are scheduled to report. Thus far, some of the biggest retail names, including Nordstrom and Michael Kors have posted results that exceeded Wall Street's expectations.

However, posting better-than-expected results may not be enough for these companies to stay in good graces with investors, if last week is any indication.

Macy's and Kohl's posted earnings and sales that topped analyst's expectations last week, but investors still punished both stocks. Shares of Macy's posted their biggest daily loss since January 5 on the back of the news, while Kohl's stock had its worst day since January 8 after its earnings came out.

Investors will take a close look at the next batch of retail earnings as they assess how companies in the space are dealing with changing consumer trends (think Amazon.com and online shopping).

On the economy: It's all about the Fed ... with some data on the side

The Federal Reserve will take center stage on the economic agenda this week.

The central bank is expected to release the minutes from its July 26 meeting. The minutes are a summary of what was discussed by top Fed officials at that monetary policy meeting.

Investors will look for clues in that discussion that might indicate how the Fed plans to proceed with its plans for rolling back stimulus measures put in place after the Great Recession.

The Fed kept interest rates unchanged at its last meeting, but said it could start reducing its massive $4.5 trillion bonds portfolio — which it accrued as an attempt to stem the tide of the financial crisis — "relatively soon."

Lackluster inflation, however, may force the central bank to keep easy monetary conditions in place a little longer. The Labor Department said on Friday that the Consumer Price Index — a widely followed measure of inflation — rose less than expected in July. Inflation is a key component used by the Federal Reserve to determine their course of monetary policy.

The last word

With so much of the market's attention on the U.S.-North Korea saga, it's easy for investors to panic and dump their portfolios.

However, it's important for investors to keep calm and invest wisely, said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private, in a note to clients:

"By all means no, there is no need to panic. While I don't particularly like sell-offs the fact is that they are natural and actually accomplish a lot of good. Sell-offs act as sort of a pressure relief value by reducing excess exuberance and speculation. Sell-offs shake out the weak handed investors. Personally, I remain bullish. ... But just because I'm bullish doesn't mean I will be stepping up to buy in what looks like a selling environment just to try and scoop up stocks. No, I won't overpay for names that I believe may come down if the selling pressure continues. I believe there will likely be better opportunities for us.

"As to where we go from here? Well it's hard to say, but what I do know is that the markets and the world, are facing some pretty big questions and the problem with these questions is they can't be quantified however when I think back to the issues we as a society have faced in the past I take heart in believing that we will get through this short-term craziness despite or in spite of some of the people who've helped create the situation."

Good luck.