Strong Data May Not Be Enough

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Next week should be packed with numbers pointing to a long-anticipated upturn in the U.S. economy, but Wall Street's gains may be tempered by this week's robust showing and waning interest during prime vacation time.

"The general sense is that economic numbers are going to show a continuation or maybe an acceleration in the recent strength detected in the economy," said Stanley Nabi, managing director at Credit Suisse Asset Management, which oversees $312 billion globally. "On the other hand, my suspicion is the market will just mill around and do very little."

Friday's session offered a hint of what may come next week. Intel Corp. (INTC), the world's No. 1 chip maker, gave an upbeat forecast in light of stronger demand from computer makers. Its bullish outlook sparked an early market surge, but the rally soon fizzled as investors locked in gains at the end of a strong week.

The technology-stuffed Nasdaq has spiked more than 7 percent over the past two weeks. Data this week showed that manufacturing in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region surged well beyond expectations in August and unemployment lines were shorter last week, renewing hopes for stronger growth ahead.

With the earnings season largely finished, economic data next week will grab the spotlight again. Reports on consumer confidence, home sales, gross domestic product, durable goods, the job market, personal income and manufacturing growth may offer more evidence the nation's economy is emerging from its funk.

But a large chunk of the investment community will be on vacation during the last full week of August, and the unlucky few who remain in the office will be hesitant to push stocks much higher.

"Short term, we are probably going to be subdued." said Ozan Akcin, chief market strategist at Puglisi & Co. "I would be very surprised if we saw a huge move upward next week, but I think we will see stronger movement as people come back from vacation and rotate into equities."

Expectations are high for next week's batch of economic data. Analysts say the reports should point to the long-awaited rebound in the economy, but the numbers will have to be surprisingly strong to sway the market.

"Better numbers are built into the market," said John Davidson, president and chief executive of PartnerRe Asset Management, which oversees more than $6 billion. "If the numbers come in as expected, then the market should hold. But they may not be enough to drive the market higher."

Reports on existing and new home sales next week will reveal whether the red-hot housing sector continues to sizzle. Sales of existing homes for July are expected to rise to an annualized pace of 5.94 million units from 5.83 million in June, while new home sales are seen dipping to an annualized pace of 1.15 million units for July from 1.16 million in June, according to economists polled by Reuters. Existing home sales are set for release on Monday, followed by new home sales on Tuesday.

"Everybody thought the housing market was going to weaken, and that really hasn't happened," Akcin said. "If we see home sales pick up, that will be really good. It will show that the consumer sector still has some strength to it."

A report on U.S. consumer confidence will grab attention on Tuesday after the gauge took a surprise spill in July on worries over unemployment. The consumer confidence index from The Conference Board (search), a private research group, is expected to rise to 80 in August, after sliding to 76.6 in July.

The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index (search) will be released on Friday. The forecast calls for a final reading for August of 90.5, down from 90.9 in the preliminary report.

Data on U.S. durable goods orders (search), due on Tuesday, are forecast to have risen 0.9 percent in July. Durable goods are manufactured goods such as washing machines and refrigerators, meant to last three years or more.

Gross domestic product (search), or GDP, is expected to be revised upward to an annualized growth rate of 3 percent for the second quarter from a previously reported clip of 2.4 percent. The GDP report is scheduled for Thursday. The Commerce Department (search) said last month that the biggest surge in defense spending since the Korean War era helped drive U.S. economic growth in the second quarter.

Investors are eagerly awaiting next week's report on weekly jobless claims to determine if companies are hiring employees again after the massive layoffs of the past three years.

The monthly index from the National Association of Purchasing Managers (search)-New York and the Chicago Purchasing Management index (search) will be scrutinized for more hints of growth in the manufacturing sector.