Fed to run the show despite big earnings

NEW YORK Fri Oct 8, 2010 7:13pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Not even earnings from big names like Google and GE next week will be able to pull Wall Street's focus away from the possibility of more cheap cash flowing in from the Federal Reserve.

Normally when the likes of JPMorgan or Intel --also reporting next week -- tell investors how much they earned in the previous quarter, the stock market hangs on every word.

But after Friday's surprisingly anemic payrolls report, the increased likelihood the Fed will buy more assets like Treasury bonds to stimulate the economy has investors ignoring the usual benchmarks.

"Markets have been oscillating between macro and micro data, and the upcoming week will focus on macro," said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

The fact that Wall Street closed Friday in the black despite the weak payrolls data is evidence the Fed's action is top of mind for investors at this time.

Action from the central bank has already been baked into the equities rally, with $500 billion as the most talked-about injection. And the risk of a decline in equities is off balance as both good and bad economic news could have a bullish effect on stocks.

"Good news is clearly good and the market goes up," said John Praveen, chief investment strategist at Prudential International Investments Advisers LLC in Newark, New Jersey.

"If earnings or economic news is bad, then we'll get" a second round of quantitative easing, he noted. "Therefore the market will still go up. In that sense, risk is asymmetric."

Economic data next week, including consumer and producer prices, retail sales and consumer sentiment could shed further light on whether the economy has slowed enough to require swift action from the Fed.

"If CPI shows core inflation is going to fall, further odds of aggressive QE --as opposed to a trickle -- will increase and that will be viewed positively by the market," said Praveen.

EARNINGS TAKE BACK SEAT

Intel Corp (INTC.O), JPMorgan Chase & CO (JPM.N), Google Inc (GOOG.O) and General Electric Co (GE.N) are among the largest companies that will post earnings next week. Intel warned in late August that its revenue could fall short and its shares got punished, so there's little space for a negative surprise.

And if Alcoa's report on Thursday was any indication, even bellwethers' numbers may have to vary enormously from expectations to be noted amid all the QE2 talk.

Alcoa Inc (AA.N) marked the unofficial start to earnings season, rising 5.7 percent to $12.89 a day after its results beat estimates. While the stock rose sharply, it was far from the market's focal point, which hinged on the expectation of the Fed's action.

And next week's Treasury auctions, especially of longer-term bonds, may also provide a boost to stocks.

Investors are getting fatigued and bids on the 30-year bond might be a little bit weaker from past auctions, according to Wells Fargo's Jacobsen.

A decline in interest would suggest "people are more interested in going into equities rather than bonds," he said.

Turning the balance even further in favor of the bulls, expectations of more easing from the U.S. central bank should keep the dollar on a downtrend, which is another signal of gains for Wall Street.

An inverse correlation between the greenback and U.S. stocks has prevailed strongly in the last weeks The 30-day correlation between the S&P 500 .SPX and the dollar index .DXY was at -0.88, while the 50-day correlation was -0.89.

That said, with the International Monetary Fund meeting discussing the issue of competitive currency devaluations and shorts on the U.S. dollar piling up, a big move up on the greenback may become a hurdle for stocks.

OPTIONS CALL FOR CALM MARKET

S&P 500 charts show the previous resistance at 1,150 has turned into short-term support, with the next resistance level around 1,170-1,175. The current trend channel doesn't hit that area until late next week.

Options trading implies low volatility levels, as reflected by the CBOE Volatility Index .VIX and the CBOE Nasdaq 100 Volatility Index .VXN, said Scott Fullman, director of derivative investment strategy at WJB Capital Group.

"While the rally appears to have stalled," he said, "we continue to see indications of an upward bias toward prices."

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Doris Frankel in Chicago; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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