Five Things We're Watching: March 11, 2011

iPad hits stores, NFL labor deadline approaches and Saudi Arabia braces for "Day of Rage." Here's some of what we’re watching – and therefore you should as well.


Day of Rage?: US equity markets plummeted Thursday, the Dow turning in its worst day since August in the latest twist of this seesaw trading week. The focus stays east Friday, as Saudi Arabia is set to see a so-called "Day of Rage"… or will it? A great deal of uncertainty hovers around the long-scheduled event, organized via Facebook. With the Saudi government's ban on protests and troop deployment leading to disputed reports of shots fired to control crowds Thursday, the scope and gravity of this "Day of Rage" are hard to predict. That uncertainty hasn't come to the aid of regional markets with the benchmark Saudi index getting hammered over the past two weeks, while oil remains above $100 a barrel.

Early Birds Get the iPad: While most right-thinking Americans turn on their TV at 4:00a ET each day to watch Nicole Lapin and Worldwide Exchange, multi-tasking will be the name of the game for some Friday as Apple’s second-generation iPad goes on sale at that hour. Piper Jaffray is looking for 5.5 million units sold in the first quarter of availability, building on the roughly 20 million first-generation models Apple moved. Despite all the hype, Apple shares have been captive to the wild market swings this week, down significantly since the weekend.

On the Stumpf: Like the broader markets and its financial peers, Wells Fargo shares took a big hit Thursday, while the company announced its intentions to return 30 percent of earnings to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases. At 10:30a ET, CNBC's Mary Thompson sits down for a rare interview with CEO John Stumpf, who's recently advocated the continued government backstop of the mortgage market and taken shots at overregulation of financials from Washington. As far as endorsements go, you can't do much better than Warren Buffett, who upped Berkshire Hathaway's massive stake in Wells Fargo to more than 340 million shares in the fourth quarter, telling CNBC "I feel very good about the whole Wells operation." Well, then.

Labor Day: Back to deadline day -- the week-long extension to the NFL's collective bargaining agreement expires Friday evening. The winds coming from the negotiation room seem to indicate progress: owners offering more access to the league's financials, and reports that the 18-game season proposal is off the table. But, progress and a deal aren't the same thing and it's anyone's guess what gets resolved in the next day. Darren Rovell continues to report the latest news, and it better involve some handshakes. I have Roddy Whitein my fantasy football keeper league at a good price, and I can't have a lockout infringing on my 2011 offseason planning.

Consumer Check-Up: While political unrest in oil-producing nations whips markets every which way, bulls continue to have an underlying reason for optimism with strong economic datapoints on the homefront. Friday brings two key gauges of the consumer: monthly retail sales numbers expected to see a 1.2 percent rise at 8:30a ET, followed by the March Consumer Sentiment index, which releases at 9:55a ET.