Stocks: Investors watch for guidance on Europe

September 25, 2011: 9:15 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Investors will be eyeing Washington D.C. over the weekend for news on Greece as finance ministers meet at the annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Close attention will be paid to public pronouncements from key European leaders and even rumors from closed-door meetings to see whether finance ministers can help Greece avoid defaulting on its debt. Any developments -- or the lack of them -- will dictate the mood among investors on Monday morning.

"There's no question that European banks are undergoing an old-fashioned run," said Russell Price, senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Services. "Until there's some sort of program that gives people confidence in that banking system, investors will be scared."

Investors worry that a Greek default will drag down other European economies struggling with weak growth. Unsustainable levels of debt could quickly spread financial woes across borders and oceans. Managers of American money market funds continue to pull money out of European banks, with the French banks feeling the biggest impact.

Investors will be giving hawk-like attention to numbers having to do with the U.S. economy or consumer spending, especially after the Federal Reserve's statement Wednesday noting "significant downside risks" to the economy. For that reason, the reports on personal income and spending due out Friday will be closely watched.

Two reports on regional manufacturing from the Dallas and Richmond Federal Reserve branches also could each have an outsize negative impact on stocks if they show a continued slowdown in activity.

Greek default: What it would mean

Overall, the stock markets' sharp swings are unlikely to abate in the coming week with investors watching every headline for a new potential risk factor.

Stocks and commodities had taken extreme hits by Friday, with all three stock indices down more than 5% for the week. The Federal Reserve's negative assessment of the economy coupled with its relatively mild monetary medicine -- Operation Twist not more quantitative easing -- caused investors to run out of stocks, corporate bonds and commodities and into the relative safety of U.S. Treasuries.

The Dow Jones industrial average (DJI) closed the week down 738 points, or 6.4%, its worst weekly performance since October 2008. The S&P 500 (SPX) was down 80 points, or 6.5% for the week, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq (COMP) dropped 139 points, or 5.6%.

On the docket

Monday: The new home sales index for August is due after the opening bell. Sales are expected to have decreased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 293,000 units, from 298,000 the previous month.

Tuesday: The Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, due before the market opens, is expected to have increased 4.5% in July after dipping 4.5% in June.

Due after the bell, the Conference Board's July consumer confidence index is forecast to increase to 46.7 in September from 44.5 in August.

In corporate news, quarterly results are due from Walgreens (WAG, Fortune 500).

Wednesday: A government report on durable goods is expected before trading begins. Economists estimate that orders stayed the same in August, after rising 4% in the prior month. Excluding volatile transportation orders, durable good orders are expected to be up 0.2%.

Dow's worst week since October 2008

Also in the morning, Family Dollar (FDO, Fortune 500) will report quarterly earnings.

A weekly report on crude inventories is also due.

Thursday: The third and final reading on second-quarter economic growth is due before the start of trading. Economists expect that gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation's economic activity, grew at an annual rate of 1.2% in the three months ended in June, up from the previous reading of a 1% rise.

Also on tap before the opening bell: the Labor Department will put out its weekly jobless claims numbers. Economists are looking for claims to 420,000 in the latest week.

Later in the morning, a report from the National Association of Realtors is expected to show pending home sales down 1.3% in July.

Friday: A government report on personal income and spending is due before the opening bell. Economists expect income to have stayed the same in August after rising 0.3% in the previous month. Spending is forecast to have increased 0.2% last month, following an 0.8% increase in July.

The Chicago PMI, a regional reading on manufacturing activity, will be released after the bell. The measure is expected to have moved to 54.0 in September from 56.5 in August.

The University of Michigan's final reading on consumer sentiment in September is due shortly after the market opens. It's expected to come in at 57.6 down slightly from the last reading 57.8.  To top of page

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