Tee time at Augusta, tea time for Boehner, and wait-and-see time for Portugal. Here's some of what we're watching…
Counting Up Receipts: All morning Thursday, major retail chains report March sales data. For the first time in 18 months, we could see a cumulative decline in the numbers, with retailers under pressure from the headwinds of rising gas prices, cold weather and late Easter timing. The consensus estimate is a 0.5 percent dip. Department stores could be hardest hit, with Kohl's and JCPenney amongst the names to watch.
Portugal's Hourglass: At this point, it is just a matter of time (and not much time) before Portugal becomes the latest casualty of the European debt crisis, with the Portguese caretaker government saying Wednesday it needs financing from the European Union. How soon and how much are the outstanding questions. That's the backdrop as the European Central Bank readies its Thursday policy decision, in which it's widely expected to raise interest rates to combat inflation. The euro is trading around a 15-month high versus the dollar in advance.
The Man in the Middle: As Congressional tug-of-war over the Federal Budget nears Friday deadline, a potential government shutdown becomes increasingly real. While agencies are working now to determine who and what is essential — if such a limited shutdown occurred — the man in the center is House Speaker John Boehner. The newly elected speaker is caught between his opposition across the aisle and the freshly empowered tea party contingent. The rubber is about the meet the road, when it comes to testing Mr. Boehner's control over his caucus.
Cisco CEO John Chambers is set to speak at a tech conference in San Francisco at 2:00pm ET Thursday, in comments which took on far greater interest following his promise earlier this week to take "bold steps" to narrow the tech behemoth's focus. His sweeping remarks evoke a company in need of a makeover. It's been a lost decade for Cisco shareholders and, increasingly, the blame is being directed at Mr. Chambers.
Tee Time at Augusta: Who are we kidding? Golf's first major tees off Thursday and we're eager to see if Phil can defend his title, matching the struggling Tiger Woods with four green jackets. Major golf names like Callaway have traded down significantly since the disaster in Japan, where concerns remain about how consumer demand will be impacted throughout that nation's recovery.