Nervous Week Ahead Amid Iraq, Fed Watch

Look for another week of low volume and high anxiety on Wall Street as investors sit out the markets, watching for more violence in Iraq and waiting for the Federal Reserve (search) to raise interest rates.

Reports on durable goods orders, new home sales, gross domestic product and consumer sentiment are expected to confirm a picture of a stronger economy. Still, traders will be jumpy about geopolitics as the June 30 power handover in Iraq looms.

Durable goods orders will be the most closely followed data of the week, with economists predicting a May rebound after a drop the previous month.

Economists don't think the week's reports will shake the belief that the Fed will raise rates by a quarter point when the Federal Open Market Committee (search) meets on June 29 and 30. This week, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan (search) reassured stock investors by indicating that interest-rate rises were likely to be gradual.

Henry Willmore, head of U.S. economics at Barclays Capital, said: "I think this week a lot of things were settled in terms of whether the Fed would tighten by 25 or 50 basis points, and the market is now confident that the Fed will go by 25.

"I don't think there is anything on the horizon over the next week which will upset that, and I also don't see much fresh direction from the market until that meeting is out of the way."

Stocks ended higher Friday. For the week, though, the major indexes were mixed. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average (search) edged up 0.06 percent, while the broad Standard & Poor's 500 Index inched down 0.13 percent, and the tech-laced Nasdaq Composite Index declined 0.66 percent.

Events in Iraq will continue to overshadow economic news, strategists said.

"The market is probably going to continue to focus on events in Iraq," Peter Cardillo, chief market analyst and chief strategist at SW Bach & Co., said. "We do have economic numbers next week, but the market isn't really interested right now, as long as these continue to show strong growth.

"If attacks begin to lessen, the market will begin to focus more on the economy," Cardillo said.

Thursday's durable goods orders are seen as the most market-sensitive data release. Lehman Brothers expects May's overall durable goods orders up 1 percent, a partial rebound from April's 3.2 percent plunge.

First-quarter GDP, to be released Friday, is likely to remain at 4.4 percent, economists at HSBC forecast.

Meanwhile, higher mortgage rates are unlikely yet to have slowed new home sales -- expected to show a 2.5 percent rise in May when figures are released Thursday, Lehman Brothers said.

Friday's University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey is expected to inch higher, some economists think, as the stronger economy gives people more confidence in employment prospects. Lehman Brothers sees the final June reading for the Michigan survey rising to 95.5 from 95.2 previously.

Investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are among a handful of major companies posting their earnings reports next week. The banks both release second-quarter earnings on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, investors can take the pulse of the consumer from reports due from two retailers. Walgreen Co. (WAG), the largest U.S. drugstore chain, reports third-quarter figures Monday, while Family Dollar Stores Inc. (FDO), the Matthews, N.C.-based company that operates more than 5,000 stores in 43 states, reports third-quarter earnings Thursday.

FedEx Corp. (FDX), the world's No. 1 air-express shipper, will give further indication about consumer and business strength when it reports fourth-quarter figures Wednesday.