By Kate Gibson
The U.S. stock market in the days ahead gets to decide whether the mass exodus from risky assets was overdone. The answer could depend on European efforts to stem sovereign-debt troubles and rescue the euro.
"The question is, what will the ECB (European Central Bank) or European Commission say coming out of a weekend of emergency meetings?" said Marc Pado, U.S. market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald.
Growth concerns from China to Europe have fueled a drop in global equities since the middle of the past month. The decline reached its crescendo on Thursday, when the S&P 500 fell more than 10% from its April peak. That put stocks officially in a correction mode after 14 months that had equities gaining more than 80% from its March lows.
On Friday, U.S. stocks remained volatile after the prior day's rout, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) staging triple-digit swings in both directions before ending up 125.38 points, or 1.3%, at 10,193.39, leaving it off 4% for the week.
The blue-chip average is now off 9% from its 2010 high, just out of territory signaling a correction to the bull market dating back to March 2009.
The S&P 500 Index (SPX) rose 16.10 points, or 1.5%, to 1,087.69, leaving it down 4.2% from the week-ago close.
The Nasdaq Composite Index (RIXF) gained 25.03 points, or 1.1%, to 2,229.04, off 5% for the week.
Last week had investors moving out of stocks, gold and commodity currencies en masse and into "bonds, cash and hiding," Richard Ross, global technical strategist at Auerbach, Grayson & Co.
Friday's halt to the slide in U.S. equities came along with a rise in the euro (CUR_EURUSD), with Europe's common currency notching its first weekly gain in give. .
The battered currency's partial recovery came after both houses of Germany's parliament approved the country's contribution the to massive aid package put together by the European Union and International Monetary Fun.
Treasury notes proving the exception as investors cut risk indiscriminately, with standard safe havens such as gold hit, with the precious metal off more than 4% for the week. .
Oil continued its three-week slide, finishing just above $70 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, leaving the contract down 2.2% for the week. .
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed workers at a Boeing maintenance facility in an airport in Shanghai, calling for a level playing field where domestic and international companies can freely compete, according to published reports.
Clinton and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are leading an American delegation that on Monday start two days of meetings with Chinese officials. .
The economic talks, however, might be overshadowed by escalating tensions between the Koreas after the March 26 sinking of a South Korean navy ship.
And, on his way back from China, Geithner now plans to stop in Europe to meet with ECB and euro zone officials, a detour that illustrates the "deadly seriousness of the return of negativity" over Europe's attempts to get a handle on its credibility gap with the markets, wrote Michael Wallace, global market strategist at Action Economics.
On Capitol Hill, recent days had the U.S. Senate on Thursday voting 59-39 to approve the most comprehensive overhaul of the financial industry since the Great Depression.
The measure, which would restrict proprietary trades by banks and form an agency to protect consumers against lending abuses, must now be reconciled with legislation passed by the House of Representatives in December.
The Senate bill also includes a $50 billion fund to wind down financial institutions that up until recently were viewed as too big to fail "in the event 2008 repeats itself," said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co.
"While the Senate passage of the bill is an important step, we still have to wait to see what the bill looks like that comes out of conference. While it is difficult to gauge the hows, whys and whens, it seems as though the bill will be signed into law by the middle of the summer at the latest," Greenhaus noted.
The market's spiral down, which among other things had the Volatility Index (VIX) shooting up 25%, poised the question of whether April 23 marked the end of the bull market, with many stock analysts instead arguing against the conclusion.
While it did not address the root issues of Europe's sovereign debt crisis, the rescue plan "should eliminate the possible liquidity crisis that was likely more dangerous to the health of the global recovery," said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc.
The 750 billion euro package roughly covers the government financing needs of Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain for three years, if needed, according to Stone.
Still, worries about implementing the plan and the resulting economic effects have continued to weigh on the market.
"The current correction in stock prices in and of itself is not yet evidence that this bull market is at its end," said Stone, who believes stocks remain attractive for longer-term investors who can bear the market volatility.
Acknowledging those that believe the current time to be the start "of a long period of global economic unrest which will keep rates low while suffering from a prolonged period of deflation," Morgan Keegan & Co. analyst Kevin Giddis said he subscribes to a differing theory.
"We are in a cycle of 'change' in which debt, if managed correctly, leads to economic growth and confidence," Giddis said.
"When the dust settles in Europe, there will be a plan to cover the debt, and attention will turn back to the recovery in the U.S.," Giddis predicted.
While there is little doubt the Europe's debt troubles are serious and could have a dampening effect on global economic growth, the trouble is likely "a passing thunderstorm that could spin off a few short-lived tornadoes in the global equity and commodity markets rather than a class-five massively destructive hurricane," Dickson said.
"The U.S. stock market is now oversold on a short-term basis," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at Davidson Companies.
The run for cover has had investors pretty much ignoring recent U.S. economic reports as well as earnings, and the coming days may or may not break the recent trend.
Blended share-weighted earnings for the S&P 500 for the first quarter stood at $184.08 as of Friday, above the prior week's $183.3, according to research compiled by Thomson Reuters.
Earnings in the week ahead include quarterly reports for eight S&P 500 companies. On Monday, investors can expect results from Campbell Soup Co. (CPB), with AutoZone Inc. (AZO) and Medtronic Inc. (MDT) slated reporting the next day. NetApp Inc. (NTAP) reports on Wednesday, followed by Big Lots Inc. (BIG), Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST), HJ Heinz Co. (HNZ) and Novell Inc. (NOVL) on Thursday.
Coming reports include data slated for release Monday on existing home sales for April, along with an index tracking home prices for March and the first quarter.
A reading of consumer confidence in May comes on Tuesday, with reports on durable goods and new home sales in April slated for release on Wednesday.
Reports on personal income in April and a look at business activity in the Chicago region are slated for release on Friday.