Welcome back, Wall Street
After a long holiday weekend, investors return to face a busy week: housing, inflation, consumer confidence, GDP and labor market reports are all on tap.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Suntanned and barbecued investors returning after the long Memorial Day weekend have about a day to reorient themselves before the next big onslaught of market-moving news. By Wednesday, they better be ready.
Tuesday brings a consumer confidence report, but the news flow really accelerates Wednesday, with the release of the minutes from the last Federal Reserve policy meeting. While the minutes are unlikely to offer any big surprises, they will give stock market participants a better sense of what Fed officials were considering in early May.
Although bets about what Fed officials might do by the end of the year have preoccupied investors of late. Stock market participants are hoping that the Federal Reserve will end up cutting interest rates by the end of the year, rather than raising them or holding steady.
Economic news that has challenged such bets has weighed on stocks recently, such as last week, when a strong reading on new home sales sparked worries that the economy was not slowing enough to warrant a rate cut later this year.
A much weaker reading on new home sales released Friday showed that the housing market woes are far from over. However, the conflicting reports and the subsequent stock market gyrations demonstrated investor sensitivity to perceptions about the Fed.
"We're getting back to the 'good news is bad news' scenario," said Donald Selkin, director of research at Joseph Stevens. "People want news right now that the economy is strong, but not too strong, so the Fed can maybe cut."
After raising a key short-term interest rate 17 times in a row between 2004 and 2006, the central bank has held rates steady at 5.25 percent since last August. Investors are hoping that the Fed will start lowering rates, as lower rates speed up the flow of money through the economy, eventually boosting corporate profits and stock prices.
Since selling off in late February, stocks have recovered, with the Dow Jones industrial average (Charts) rising for seven weeks straight, as part of a broader advance.
But the rally stalled a little last week, with the Dow and S&P sliding and the Nasdaq ending essentially flat due to mixed economic news and some cautious comments from ex-Fed chief Alan Greenspan about the Chinese stock market.
Whether the rally recharges in the week ahead will depend on the economic news, with Dell (Charts, Fortune 500) the only company of note due to release quarterly earnings results. The tech behemoth is expected to report earnings of 26 cents per share Thursday evening, versus 33 cents a year earlier.
"The week is chock full of important and meaningful reports," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at RBS Greenwich Capital.
Reports are due on gross domestic product growth, manufacturing, housing, construction, inflation, consumer confidence and the labor market. (see chart for details).
The ISM manufacturing index will likely be a bit weaker than the strong reading from April, Greenwich's Stanley said, but should nonetheless continue to show recovery in the sector. The housing market is represented by construction spending and pending home sales.
Friday is the biggest day of the week. It brings the May jobs report and the April personal income and spending report, which includes the Core PCE, the Fed's favorite inflation indicator.
"We'll be watching the payroll numbers, with employment a little soft last month," Stanley said. As for the PCE, "the inflation number was good in April, so we'll be looking to see if the trend continues."
In general, anything that keeps the hope alive that the Fed might cut rates later this year will be seen as a positive by stock investors, said John Wilson, chief technical strategist at Morgan Keegan.