Stimulus euphoria may be waning, but investors will have plenty to focus on in the week ahead, as a blast of earnings news hits, the Federal Reserve meets and new data will show the state of the economy at the end of the year.
Stocks gained in the past week on optimism for a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, proposed by President Joe Biden. But by Friday, the market lost steam amid increased concerns about the pandemic's economic impact, and as it seemed Biden would not have an easy time getting the stimulus plan approved.
The pandemic will also be a factor as travel restrictions and lockdowns threaten the global economy, and worries remain over the speed of vaccine distributions.
But there is hope that Johnson and Johnson will release positive news on its vaccine results soon, and if that's the case it could signal another source of vaccines will be available. The J&J vaccine would be a single shot, as opposed to the currently available double-shot vaccines.
"We expect to see their results," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities. "That could be super bullish." The company reports earnings on Tuesday.
Hogan said the market may also respond to Covid news. He said the seven-day average in new Covid cases fell below the 14-day average this past week for the first time since Thanksgiving, and if that continues, it could indicate a peak.
If the virus news improves, the market could resume its grind higher in the coming week, said Hogan.
As for the economy, the first look at fourth quarter real gross domestic product comes Thursday, and it is expected to show growth of 4.7%, according to the CNBC/Moody's Analytics Rapid Update survey. For the year, the economists surveyed expect GDP contracted by 3.5%. The economists forecast 5% growth for 2021.
Consumers pulled back at the end of the fourth quarter, evidenced by a surprise 0.7% decline in December retail sales reported this past week, after a negative November.
"You're really going to see a loss of momentum throughout the quarter," said Kevin Cummins, chief U.S. economist at NatWest Markets. "It's a set up for a really weak Q1." PMI data shows manufacturing activity has been strong, but labor market data is weak and consumer spending is disappointing.
"You've got to juxtapose what's happening with the vaccine and the virus with what's happening with underlying data. We've definitely seen a lot of the things that could spark a pullback," said Lori Calvasina, chief U.S. equity strategist at RBC.
Calvasina and other strategists expect a sell-off early in the year.
Stocks hit new highs across the major indices Wednesday, as Biden was inaugurated, and many technicians see the market as overbought. The catalyst for a pullback is not clear, but strategists expect the market to gain this year and say a buying opportunity would open up with any decline.
"Do we start to see stuff showing up in that data that makes us question that recovery?" said Calvasina. "My assumption is we're going to get a lot of volatility in that data, and we're going to get some downdrafts but it's not going to be bad enough to erase this upward trajectory we've seen in the economy since the second quarter."
The Fed is also a powerful backstop for the market, and economists don't expect the Fed to take any action or change in its dovish tone when it releases its statement Wednesday afternoon, following its two-day meeting.
"I don't see them making many changes," said Cummins of NatWest. "They'll probably acknowledge just the fact that employment was weak.
"It's going to be pretty clear cut," he added. "I think Powell will sound similar to what he sounded like in September." Cummins said the Fed chairman is likely to say the economic outlook depends on the course of the virus and vaccine.
There is also durable goods data Wednesday and personal income and spending data on Friday. The Fed's favorite inflation gauge, the PCE deflator is also released Friday, and Powell will surely be asked Wednesday afternoon about inflation, which is increasingly being priced into market expectations.
Powell is also likely to be asked his views on fiscal stimulus, which could end up being smaller than some expect.
Hogan of National Securities said the market traded lower on Friday on expectations the package could be smaller and take longer than expected to gain approval.
"I think the realism of saying $1.9 trillion and doing $1.9 trillion are two different things," he said. "We fall into that trap all the time."
"What's happening now is there is no magic wand here," Hogan added. "It's not to say there's no stimulus. It's just a matter of how long it will take and how much there will be. There's a little bit of realism."
Strategists say the trigger for a sell-off could be just about anything.
Matt Maley, chief market strategist at Miller Tabak, said a pullback could be sparked if bitcoin starts to fall more sharply, since some investors would sell stock in response. "When there's no bid in bitcoin they have to sell something, and they sell stock," said Maley.
Bitcoin has had a wild early ride in 2021. The cryptocurrency hit a record high of $41,973 on Jan. 12, according to data from Coin Metrics. Days later, it fell about 15%, wiping out as much as $200 billion in just 24 hours.
Bitcoin then regained some of its losses, surging to near $40,000 before another reversal. On Friday, it was trading at $33,200 after dipping below $30,000.
"If this thing starts tanking again, it's going to cause some forced selling and it's going to cause some selling in the stock market," said Maley, adding it will be important to hold the low from Thursday night.
He said the short position in the dollar is also an overcrowded trade that could turn quickly. A resulting short squeeze could cause a dollar rally that would be negative for the stock market. He also is watching Tesla, which reports earnings on Wednesday.
"I think whether it be bitcoin, the dollar, Tesla, one of these crowded trades...it's going to turn the narrative that's permeating right now, and if we don't get a surprise the market will continue to push higher," he said.
FOMC meeting begins
Earnings: Microsoft, 3M, Johnson & Johnson, American Express, Starbucks, Raytheon, Verizon, Texas Instruments, Lockheed Martin, UBS, D.R. Horton, General Electric, Novartis, UBS, Freeport-McMoRan, Paccar, Capital One, Advanced Micro Devices
9:00 a.m. S&P/Case-Shiller home prices
9:00 a.m. FHFA home prices
10:00 a.m. Consumer confidence
Earnings: Facebook, Apple, Tesla, AT&T, Boeing, General Dynamics, Whirlpool, Norfolk Southern, Blackstone, Nasdaq, Anthem, Abbott Labs, Textron, Corning, Hess, VF Corp, Samsung, Teradyne, Canadian Pacific Railway, Raymond James, Levi Strauss
8:30 a.m. Durable goods
2 p.m. Fed rate decision
2:30 p.m. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell briefing
Earnings: McDonald's, Dow, Visa, Mondelez, Northrop Grumman, Comcast, Mastercard, PulteGroup, Southwest Air, Altria, American Airlines, JetBlue, T.Rowe Price, McCormick, Brunswick, Marsh and McLennan, Sherwin-Williams, Stanley Black and Decker, Canon, Valero Energy, Beazer Homes
8:30 a.m. Initial jobless claims
8:30 a.m. Q4 Real GDP
10:00 a.m. Advance economic indicators
10:00 a.m. New home sales
8:30 a.m. Personal income and spending
9:45 a.m. Chicago PMI
10:00 a.m. Pending home sales
10:00 a.m. Consumer sentiment