NEW YORK – Holiday sales data and a jobs report next week will provide the first glimpse of the economy's health going into 2005, and could give another boost to the end-of-year stock rally, analysts said.
Circuit City Stores Inc. (CC) will release December sales figures on Wednesday, followed a day later by monthly retail same-store sales reports, including data from Best Buy Inc. (BBY), the largest U.S. electronics chain.
Circuit City said in mid-December it was cautious about the holiday shopping season, but some fund managers said both data and anecdotal evidence suggested end-of-year sales could be better than expected. Circuit City has been losing market share to rival Best Buy for several years.
"There are some hints the end of season shopping was much stronger than expected," said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in Jersey City, New Jersey, which oversees about $2 billion in assets.
For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial average declined 0.41 percent, after setting a multi-year high on Monday. The S&P 500 rose 0.15 percent for the week, after setting a multi-year high on Friday, and the Nasdaq gained 0.69 percent for the week.
For the year, the Dow rose 3.2 percent, the S&P jumped 8.9 percent and the Nasdaq edged up 8.6 percent.
On Tuesday, auto sales for December will be released. U.S. car and truck sales are likely to rebound from a disappointing November, but the bulk of the gain is expected to come from Asian automakers.
The median forecast of seven analysts show domestic car sales rising to 5.2 million, up from 5.11 million, and truck sales reaching 8.3 million, an increase from 7.8 million.
A jobs report on Friday is expected to show non-farm payrolls increased by 175,000, according to the consensus view of 22 Wall Street analysts and investment banks, and the unemployment rate is seen unchanged at 5.4 percent.
Another widely watched indicator, the Institute for Supply Management's factory survey for December, is expected to rise to 58.1 from a previous 57.8 when it is released on Monday. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, and if the index comes in near expectations it would indicate good economic growth.
The reports "might help set the tone in term of people's view on the strength of the economy," Meckler said.
Investors may be surprised by the data, as a stronger economy hasn't been priced into stock prices yet, said Gary Rolle, chief investment officer at Transamerica Investment Management LLC, which oversees about $21 billion.
Stronger economic growth could lead to increased capital expenditures and improve plant utilization capacity, Rolle said. That could increase inventory building, he added.
"On balance we expect the data to confirm above-trend economic growth for the fourth quarter of 2004, and that should be the story for 2005," said a report on Friday by economists Peter Hooper and Joseph LaVorgna at Deutsche Bank.
The report referred to unemployment, auto sales, ISM data and November factory orders, to be released on Tuesday, which are expected to show an 0.8 percent increase, according to a consensus estimate of 22 Wall Street analysts.
Barry Ritholtz, chief market strategist at the Maxim Group, said anecdotal evidence suggested that holiday shopping, which had looked to be soft at the beginning of the season, has picked up nicely.
"I've been out and about this week and the stores have been jammed," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see that retail, while still on the modest side of improvement, is somewhat better than people have thought."