Friday Look Ahead: Fourth Quarter GDP Figures in Focus

Friday's data is expected to show that economic growth accelerated in the fourth quarter and that consumer sentiment is improving.

New York Stock Exchange
Photo: Oliver Quillia for
New York Stock Exchange

Fourth quarter GDP, while a rearview look at the economy, is being watched closely for what it might imply about the current quarter.

"It does sort of set the tone in terms of what lies ahead," said Robert Sinche, chief global foreign exchange strategist at RBS. GDP and the Employment Cost Index are reported at 8:30 a.m. The Employment Cost Index is expected to rise 0.5 percent, compared to 0.4 percent in third quarter. Consumer sentiment is released at 9:55 a.m.

"Our team is looking for (GDP) around 3.5 percent. I think the swing is going to be what they put in for trade and inventory," he said. Third quarter GDP was 2.6 percent.

There are also a handful of major earnings Friday, including Ford, Chevron, Honeywell, Arch Coal, American Electric Power, Advanced Semi and T. Rowe Price.

Thursday's after-the-bell report from Amazon may also have some bearing Friday. Amazon shares tumbled after it reported lighter than expected revenues and narrower than expected margins. Amazon reported earnings of $0.91 per share, on sales of $12.95 billion, versus an expected $0.88 per share on revenues of $13 billion. The online retailer also disappointed analysts with its first quarter forecast, which raised the prospect of continued margin pressure.


Stocks Tap 1300

Stocks rose slightly Thursday with the Dow edging up 4 to 11,989, and the S&P 500 up 2 at 1299, but not before cracking 1300. The S&P last closed above 1300 on Aug. 28, 2008.

The best performing S&P sector Thursday was the financials, up 0.9 percent. The defensive telecom and consumer staples sectors were the laggards, both down 0.9 percent. The financials are up about 3.7 percent since the start of the year, about the same as the Dow Industrials.

"I don't think anybody is making a stand that this is where they want to be short," said a trader, who trades the financial stocks. "There's a lot of things being priced in. Credit improving is known, and it's priced in. M and A is expected, and that's priced in, and growth is anticipated, but it isn't seen yet."

Brown Brothers Harriman, meanwhile, issued a report late Thursday upgrading the financial sector to overweight. The analysts pointed to the steeper yield curve, stronger balance sheets, and improving loan delinquency and default rates as potential tailwinds for bank stocks.

Elsewhere, gold Thursday fell 1.1 percent to $1,318.40, a new 2011 low, as funds lightened up on holdings. It is now off 7.3 percent from the high it hit Jan. 3.

The dollar was up 0.7 percent at 82.90 yen in Thursday afternoon trading, after Standard and Poor's cut Japan's rating to AA minus, saying the government lacked a solid plan to deal with its growing debt burden.

The dollar, however, continued to lose against the euro. The euro has gained in recent sessions on signs European leaders will come to an agreement on their bailout fund, as well as on comments from European Central Bank officials about rising inflation in the euro zone. The euro Thursday crossed 137.40, an important technical level.

Oil Drill

NYMEX crude fell nearly 2 percent Wednesday on building oil supply and on talk of possible higher OPEC production. Oil slipped to $85.64 per barrel. The anti-government protests in Egypt have not filtered into the price of oil, and traders do not expect to see much impact unless the situation becomes much more unstable. A mass rally is being called for Friday in Cairo.

Sinche said the situation is not now a factor for the dollar. "You have to watch the spillover effects on lots of things. Can it have an impact on energy prices? Can it have an impact on risk assets? Can it become a distraction for U.S. policy makers away from domestic issues? Does it do anything to extend the duration and level of spending on defense issues? It has a whole bunch of implications," he said.

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