Wall Street focus: Autos and the Fed

Investors consider the outlook for Detroit's Big Three, a likely interest rate cut from the central bank and earnings from Goldman Sachs, Oracle and others.

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By Alexandra Twin, CNNMoney.com senior writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Investors return Monday for the last full trading week of what has been for many an unbelievable, and unbelievably difficult, year on Wall Street.

"I think, at the very least, the current stock market prices probably already reflect expectations of a depression or a type of recession that is worse than what we are likely to get," said Ken Kam, portfolio manager of the Masters 100 (MOFQX) fund.

However, that doesn't mean investors are ready yet to move back into the market more consistently, he said.

Reports are due this week on housing, manufacturing and consumer prices. Goldman Sachs, Best Buy and Oracle are among the companies expected to report weaker results than they did a year ago.

Also this week, the Federal Reserve is widely expected to cut the fed funds rate, a key short-term interest rate, by a half-percentage point to 0.5%. That would mark the 10th rate cut since 2007.

Amid the housing market collapse, credit market freeze and global recession, stocks have been hit hard.

As of Friday's close, the S&P 500 is down 40% for the year and 44% since closing at an all-time high of 1565.15 in October 2007. The declines had been sharper though late November, with stocks hitting what some market analysts are calling a bear market bottom on Nov. 20.

After hitting that low, the S&P 500 rallied 21% in less than thee weeks. But last week it stalled, as a bailout for the beleaguered automakers hit government gridlock and corporations announced thousands of job cuts amid the recession. (For more details, click here)

Last week the Senate shot down a proposed $14 billion auto bailout bill. But the Treasury Department said it would be willing to give the automakers some of the $700 billion in the bank and Wall Street bailout already approved by Congress. Investors returning to work this week will likely have a better sense of where the automakers stand. And the removal of that uncertainty should help stocks in the short-term. (Full story).

Yet "beyond the automakers, we're still dealing with a weak outlook for the economy," said Bill Stone, chief Investment Strategist, PNC Financial Services Group

In the week ended Dec. 10, investors pulled roughly $2.8 billion out of equity mutual funds, after pulling $12.1 billion out of funds in the previous week. Investors have cashed out of equity mutual funds in 17 of the last 19 weeks.


Monday: The December NY Empire State index, a regional reading on manufacturing, is expected to improve modestly to a reading of minus 27 from a reading of minus 25 in November. The previous number was the weakest in the survey's seven-year history.

The two-day Federal Reserve policy meeting begins.

Tuesday: Goldman Sachs and Best Buy report earnings before the start of trade. Goldman (GS, Fortune 500) is expected to have lost $3.51 per share versus a profit of $7.01 a share a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters estimates. Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) is expected to have earned 25 cents per share versus 53 cents a share a year ago.

Economic reports are due on housing and consumer inflation.

November housing starts are expected to slow to a 730,000 annual unit rate from a 791,000 rate in October. November building permits are expected to have slipped to a 700,000 annual unit rate from 708,000 in October.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is expected to have fallen 1.3% in November after dropping 1% in October. Core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, is expected to have risen 0.1% after dipping 0.1% in the previous month.

The Federal Reserve's policy-setting meeting concludes, with a decision on interest rates due at 2:15 p.m. ET.

Wednesday: Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) reports quarterly earnings before the start of trade. The company is expected to report a loss of 37 cents per share after reporting a loss of $3.61 a share a year ago.

Thursday: in the early morning, FexEx (FDX, Fortune 500) is expected to report quarterly earnings of $1.57 per share versus $1.54 a share a year ago. Last week, the package delivery firm warned that fiscal 2009 earnings won't meet forecasts because of the recession.

A pair of economic reports are due shortly after the start of trade. The Philadelphia Fed index, the Philly counterpart to Monday's New York manufacturing index, is expected to have dipped to negative 40 from negative 39.3 in the previous month.

The index of leading economic indicators (LEI) is expected to have decreased by 0.5% in November after dropping by 0.8% in the previous month.

After the close of trade, Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) is expected to report earnings of 34 cents per share, up from 31 cents a share a year ago.

Friday: The December "triple witching" day, a quarterly event when stock options, equity index options and equity index futures are all expiring simultaneously. This can create increased volatility in the underlying stocks. To top of page

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