Stock investors waiting on Bush tax cuts

chart_ws_index_sp500.top.pngClick the chart for more stock market data. By Hibah Yousuf, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The economic recovery is still very weak -- news Friday that the economy added just 39,000 in November proved that. But stock investors are more focused on Washington policies than economic indicators.

And of those policies, investors care most about the Bush tax cuts.

After rising more than 2% last week, big U.S. stocks are just shy of the 2-year highs they hit in early November, and investors hope an extension of the current tax rates for all Americans could push stocks beyond those levels.

"There aren't a whole lot of catalysts that will push stocks materially higher from here, but one thing that could serve as a real positive is if we see Congress extend all the tax rates," said Dorsey Farr, co-founder of French Wolf & Farr, an investment advisory firm in Atlanta.

The current tax structure expires at the end of the year. If no extension is approved by the Dec. 31 deadline, everyone's income and investment tax rates would spike back up to where they were before the 2001 cuts were passed.

Republicans want to extend the current rates for all taxpayers. Democrats want to extend the rates for 98% of taxpayers, letting rates rise for the highest-earning 2%. The two parties are currently negotiating a deal.

On Friday, the government's jobs report showed that the economy added only 39,000 jobs in November, far fewer than economists were hoping for, and the unemployment rate rose to 9.8%. That could push action.

"The report is likely to put even more pressure on Congress to get its act together and find a solution to help produce better job growth in the months ahead," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RBC Wealth Management. "Investors will be keenly focused on the ongoing debate between Democrats and Republicans, and are hoping that they'll find a way to renew the current tax rates for a year or two for everyone."

President Obama has appointed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and White House Budget Director Jacob Lew to start working with four appointed Republicans to work out a deal. Their plan would have to be approved by Congress.

Investors will also be tuning into '"60 Minutes" Sunday night on CBS to hear Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's latest take on the economy, including the unemployment rate, as well as the Fed's recent move to pump $600 billion into the economy by buying U.S. Treasuries.

On the docket

Monday: There are no market-moving economic or corporate events expected on Monday.

Tuesday: A report on consumer credit is forecast to show a decline of $2.3 billion in October, following a gain of $2.1 billion in the previous month.

Wednesday: There are no market-moving economic or corporate events expected on Wednesday.

Thursday: The Department of Labor releases the weekly jobless claims report in the morning. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment is forecast to fall to 430,000 from 436,000 in the previous week, according to a consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com.

Continuing claims -- a measure of Americans who have been receiving benefits for a week or more -- are expected to have edged down to 4.25 million from 4.27 million in the previous week.

The Commerce Department releases the wholesale inventories report in the morning. Inventories are expected to have risen 0.8% in October after jumping 1.5% in September.

Friday: The trade balance, due in the morning from the Commerce Department, was expected to remain unchanged at $44 billion in October.

The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index for November, due later in the morning, is expected to have risen to 72.5 from 71.6 in the previous month.

Reports on import and export prices are also due in the morning, and the November Treasury budget is on tap for the afternoon.  To top of page

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