By Kate Gibson, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- The U.S. stock market will try to sustain its steady churn higher in the shortened trading week ahead, even amid global unease that at other times would shake investors' confidence.
The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (SPX) recently marked a doubling from its 12-year low hit in March 2009, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) continued its advance in February, a month during which the blue-chip index has fallen on only three days.
The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) on Friday closed near its 10-year high, although it's still quite a distance from its record finish of 5,049 in March 2000.
"Now you have momentum, and there is no way to reconcile what the market is doing and what is happening in the world news, short of some massive shock," Rob Hoxton, president of Hoxton Financial, said Friday.
Yet escalating tension in the Middle East and North Africa during the long U.S. holiday weekend could bring a change of sentiment when Wall Street resumes business Tuesday.
While U.S. markets were closed Monday for Presidents Day, oil and gold futures rallied on reports that Libyan security forces had attacked demonstrators who are hoping to end more than four decades of rule by Moammar Gadhafi. Hundreds were said to have been killed in the clashes.
Brent crude ran as high as $108 a barrel Monday on the ICE Futures exchange, and oil futures for March delivery climbed as high as $91.55 a barrel in electronic trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
On the Dubai Financial Market, the benchmark DFM index ended down 1.3% Monday, while the Qatar Exchange's benchmark QE index also fell.
European shares also dropped, with the region's top indexes all finishing in the red.
As the global political climate brought heightened uncertainty, corporate America continued to report quarterly results that mostly beat Wall Street's expectations, while economic data pointed to ongoing improvement.
Back to business
Wall Street will resume business Tuesday with fourth-quarter results from discount retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) scheduled before the market's open.
Wal-Mart is among the 63 S&P 500 companies expected to report results during the four-day work week.
On Friday, estimated share-weighted earnings for the S&P 500 for the fourth quarter of 2010 stood at $213 billion, above the prior week's $121.3 billion, according to Thomson Reuters analyst Christine Short.
"Earnings are strong, and by our calculation, the prices on the S&P are still pretty low relative to what we expect earnings to look like," said Hoxton.
In recent days, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (BRCD) was among those beating expectations and offering a profit forecast above analysts' consensus estimates.
As Wall Street wrapped up a third consecutive week of gains Friday and looked to a long holiday weekend, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and officials from other nations in the Group of 20 met in Paris.
While central bankers gathered to discuss how to maintain the global recovery and address inflation that is hitting emerging markets particularly hard, unrest continued in the Middle East.
"It's a great concern, what is happening in the Middle East; it could turn out beautifully or it could be a disaster," said Hoxton.
In remarks made Friday in France, Bernanke argued that China and other countries with large trade surpluses should allow their currencies to climb to avert another financial crisis. Conversely, Bernanke also said nations with large trade deficits should trim government spending over time, advice presumably intended for the U.S. as well as others.
"We're getting a nice financial recovery because of the quantitative easing," said Hoxton of the Fed's $600 billion bond-buying program.
"I love it, but I'm not sure it is going to translate into fried chicken and mashed potatoes at the end of the day," he said of the recovery in equities.
"The unwind of the fear trade and all that money that went into money-market funds and bonds, a lot of that is starting to reverse, so I think we could see the stock market pushed to ridiculous levels," said Hoxton.
Some of Hoxton's clients have directed him to "wait for the correction and then move some more money in," he said.
The trouble with that approach is the herd mentality that can have more and more individual investors piling in at the same time, leading to irrational exuberance, which is when one should say, "I need to have clear access to the door," said Hoxton.