Strong Economy Likely to Help Stocks

Wall Street bulls are looking for the stock market to resume November's gains next week on continued signs of economic strength despite a slight setback for two of the major indexes.

The Dow average and Standard & Poor's 500 index snapped a five-week winning streak by Friday's close, while the Nasdaq notched its seventh straight week of gains.

But the three indexes finished November with the best monthly gains in four months and saw their best daily increases in a month on Thursday.

"I think there's still more upside ahead into next week, and as we look at the market beyond near term, I think the surprising strength in the economy is going to help us in the first half of 2006," said Barry Hyman, equity market strategist, Ehrenkrantz, King, Nussbaum.

For the week, the Dow Jones industrial average ended down 0.5 percent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ended off 0.25 percent and the technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index closed up 0.46 percent.

Thursday's big gains were partly tied to a report showing an inflation index closely watched by the Federal Reserve -- the core personal consumption expenditure index -- rose just 0.1 percent, only half the gain that Wall Street expected.

But Friday's robust jobs report revived fears interest rate will climb and helped to push the stock market down. The Fed has raised interest rates 12 consecutive times since June 30, 2004, pushing the fed funds rate to 4 percent.

"The lack of follow-through buying today leaves at least the possibility for some consolidation" next week, said Chris Burba, market analyst at Standard & Poor's. "The broad consensus is for further gains in December, but a pull-back next week would actually be healthy in the context of the current uptrend."

Meanwhile, continued strength in technology and financial shares has been supporting the market, strategists said.

Analysts this week were optimistic that the world's largest chip maker, Intel Corp., may raise its profit forecast when it gives its midquarter update on Thursday after the market's close.

Other items for investors to watch are any reports from retailers on holiday sales and Friday's preliminary December sentiment numbers from the University of Michigan, forecast to show an increase from the prior month.

On balance, the news should be favorable for equities, and stocks should "have some continued improvement," said Michael Strauss, chief economist at Connecticut-based Commonfund, which manages about $34 billion for nonprofit institutions.

Some positive reports on the economy are likely, he said. "The retail sales numbers are probably going to show some bounce-back."

Among companies expected to report financial results are retailer Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD), grocery store Kroger Co. (KR) and discount store Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST).

Also, on Wednesday, The Coca Cola Co. (KO) is holding a discussion with investors and analysts.

High energy costs, which cut into consumer spending and corporate profits, remain a concern for investors, with a whole winter of heating bills still ahead.

U.S. crude oil prices jumped on Friday as colder weather hit the U.S. Northeast. January crude rose 85 cents to settle at $59.32 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The oil gains pushed down shares of energy-reliant industrial stocks.

"A rebound in energy (prices) could be one of the excuses for a mid-December trading peak (in stocks)," Hyman said.