Market Expects Positive Week

Stocks are poised to wrap up this week on a bright note as investors do a bit of last-minute shopping to spruce up their portfolios ahead of the new year.

"It should be an up week, because the fundamentals remain positive in this marketplace," said Milton Ezrati, senior economic strategist at Lord Abbett & Co., which oversees more than $40 billion. "Portfolio managers also try to make themselves look good for quarterly reports by buying names that will make their clients smile."

The positive mood was not expected to be hampered by the incident aboard an American Airlines jetliner bound for Miami from Paris on Saturday. A passenger was overpowered by flight attendants and other passengers after he allegedly tried to blow up the plane.

The Boeing 767 carrying 185 passengers and 12 crew was safely diverted to Boston's Logan International Airport.

"Given that he was not successful, I think it will have a pretty nominal effect," said Robert Robbins, chief investment officer of the Robinson-Humphrey Co. "I think people know that this kind of thing is a worry and as long as they're not successful" the impact will be minimal, he said.

Robbins said shares of AMR Corp., the parent of American Airlines, could be hurt, along with other airline stocks and travel-related issues.

Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany Corp., said trading dynamics related to the final days of the year, such as tax-law selling and portfolio window dressing, should offset any impact.

Volume promises to be on the light side with thinly staffed trading floors during the holiday-shortened week. The stock market shuts early Monday at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) and is closed Tuesday for Christmas. Many traders will opt to take a few extra days off this week — the last trading week of 2001 — to spend time with family after a tumultuous year for the market and the nation.

"Monday will be a day you'd want to forget. The volume will be anemic," said Barry Hyman, chief investment strategist at Ehrenkrantz King Nussbaum. "The rest of the week we'll try to decipher any near-term earnings warnings and try to end on a positive note."

The confessional season — when companies warn results will miss estimates — should continue this week, and economic data, including numbers on consumer confidence and durable goods, are set for release during the week. Investors, long accustomed to sour news, are likely to keep their sights on an economic turnaround next year.

The "week will have a better tone to it," Robert Cohen, a trader for Credit Suisse First Boston, said. "Still, it's year end. It'll be quiet."

Investors To Look Past Confessions

The stock market has taken flight late in the year, propelling the broad Standard & Poor's 500 index up more than 18 percent since the market slammed to three-year lows on Sept. 21, in the wake of the attacks on the United States. Investors are betting the economy, mired in recession since March, will pick up momentum by the middle of next year.

"I have come to the conclusion that the bear market is over, but I don't think we are on the cusp of a major bull market yet," said Stanley Nabi, managing director at Credit Suisse Asset Management, which manages more than $100 billion in North America. "There are too many stumbling blocks over the next few months for the market to make a run on the way up."

Indeed, corporate earnings may suffer their worst drop of the year in the fourth quarter. S&P 500 companies posted a 21.6 percent tumble in profits for the third quarter, marking the biggest drop in earnings since the last recession of 1991, according to Thomson Financial/First Call. Analysts are forecasting a 20.7 percent drop in earnings in the fourth quarter. But the research firm believes that number could widen to 22 percent.

Corporate earnings dropped four straight quarters in 1991, but they threaten to fall five straight quarters in the latest recession. Analysts are forecasting a 6.1 percent fall in the first quarter, and those estimates could widen to a 15 percent to 16 percent fall, according to First Call.

"I think the market is anticipating a few more profit warnings, but what has happened — with very few exceptions — is if the profit warnings are not extreme, then the market has been ignoring them," Nabi said.

Economic Data to Trickle In

Investors have been rifling through a mixed bag of economic data in the last few weeks as the economy struggles to escape recession. But Wall Street is keeping its focus on hints of recovery after the Federal Reserve's 11 interest-rate cuts this year to revive the world's largest economy.

"The tone is being set by expectations that the Fed's done so much work and that a recovery will come even earlier than expected — and the expectations for the fourth quarter (the slide in profits) have been so discounted already," Cohen said. "The bar's been set so low."

The Commerce Department is set to release its report on new orders for durable goods — items like refrigerators, washing machines and cars that are meant to last for three years or more — on Friday. Durable goods orders are expected to drop 4.6 percent in November after a surge in October. New orders for durable goods jumped 12.7 percent in October, led by huge increases in orders for aircraft and defense capital goods.

Consumer confidence numbers are also due out on Friday from the Conference Board, a New York-based private business research group. The reading is expected to rise to 83.8 in December from 82.2 in November.

Economists and policy-makers closely monitor consumer confidence because it can give hints about future consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.