U.S. stock investors will brace for further signs of weakness in the economic recovery this week as earnings from key retailers are expected.
Industrial production, housing starts and inflation data will come under scrutiny as well, after stocks on Friday wrapped up their worst week in six. Last week's sell-off also drove stocks back into negative territory for the year.
Technical charts show sell signals, indicating more weakness. At the same time, some analysts say the market may be due for a bounce.
So far this earnings period, some 75 percent of results from Standard & Poor's 500 <.SPX> companies have beaten earnings estimates, according to Thomson Reuters estimates, offsetting a batch of economic reports that pointed to a slowdown in the recovery.
But for retailers, which typically round out the earnings period, results have been less optimistic. If forecasts from J.C. Penney Co Inc
The tone among retailers has changed somewhat, and the outlook now looks somewhat less upbeat than it did earlier this year in the retail space, said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at RDM Financial in Westport, Connecticut.
We're likely to hear more about somewhat sluggish consumer spending.
J.C. Penney forecast a profit for the year below Wall Street's expectations last week and said its customers were vulnerable to weak economic conditions, a day after department stores Kohl's Corp
The Federal Reserve also gave a bleaker outlook on the economy last week.
BEWARE OF FALLING SOX
Technology shares led losses on Friday, with the Nasdaq ending the week down 5 percent, while the Dow fell 3.3 percent and the S&P 500 slid 3.8 percent.
An index of semiconductors <.SOX> dropped more than 4 percent last week, ahead of results late on Wednesday from Cisco
On Friday, the SOX ended down 0.9 percent.
This week, the SOX will be watched closely when Dow component and technology bellwether Hewlett-Packard reports results.
Hewlett-Packard, whose chief executive resigned following an investigation into sexual harassment charges brought by a female contractor, is due to report earnings on Thursday.
READING THE TECHNICAL TEA LEAVES
Charts show short-term momentum turned negative this week. The S&P 500 closed below its 14-, 50- and 200-day moving averages and the moving average convergence-divergence generated a sell signal.
The negative slopes on the 14- and 50-day moving average also indicate weakness.
The Relative Strength Index, or RSI, and the Bollinger Bands show the S&P 500 has not reached oversold levels, and support for the index is seen around the 1,060-to-1,057 area, with 1,060 as the 23.6 percent retracement of the 2010 high-to-low slide between April and July, and 1,057 the low in a mid-July pullback.
Still, some analysts say stocks may be ripe for a bounce this week following the recent weakness.
I think the tone is negative, but I think the market is trying to go higher, said Terry Morris, senior vice president and senior equity manager for National Penn Investors Trust Company in Reading, Pennsylvania.
The (Federal Reserve) meeting is out of the way, and some disappointing economic numbers, and I think that all spells a higher market this week, he said.
On Friday, the S&P 500 ended down 0.4 percent, but traded near flat for much of the day.
The overall sentiment in the options market was slightly bearish, but the CBOE Volatility index <.VIX>, Wall Street's favorite barometer of fear, suggested investors should not be too worried for now.
August VIX futures that expire this Wednesday were trading on Friday just a tick above the VIX, which rose 2 percent to close at 26.24.
Considering that these are futures that expire in 3 1/2 trading days, the market is not bracing for anything too volatile (for this week) at least, said Randy Frederick, director of trading and derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research in Austin, Texas.
Industrial production data is due on Tuesday, along with housing starts and the U.S. Producer Price Index. All the data will be for July.
On Friday, the government said the overall U.S. Consumer Price Index rose 0.3 percent in July. It followed some concern about deflation expressed by the Fed earlier last week.
Given the sensitivity to the Fed statement earlier this week, all of those items will probably get a little more scrutiny than normal, said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist of The Davidson Cos. in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
EYES ON RETAILERS' REPORT CARDS
But the long list of retailers slated to report this week should attract plenty of attention as well, especially given that parents and students are preparing for the start of another school year. School is already in session in some states, while it will resume elsewhere after the Labor Day weekend.
Besides Wal-Mart and HP, results are expected from Target Corp
Home-improvement chains Home Depot
(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Additional reporting by Rodrigo Campos and Angela Moon; Editing by Jan Paschal)