By Myra P. Saefong, MarketWatch
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Investors will keep their focus on developments in the euro zone next week, with Italy poised to unveil an interim government and euro-area GDP and inflation data on tap, but earnings from tech bellwether Dell Inc. and U.S. retail sales and inflation figures may offer distractions.
"We expect the volatility and political dysfunction to be the soup du jour for all of next week, on both a global and domestic level," said Robert Laura, president of Howell, Mich.-based Synergos Financial Group.
"Seems as though as soon as one part of the euro zone begins to sober up, another rebels and goes on a two- or three-day bender that rolls the markets," he said. "Quick interventions appear to settle things down, but only seem to result in another dose of what I call 'kick the CANomics' that won't serve as the catalyst we need to take and keep the markets higher."
Even so, hopes for resolution to euro-zone debt woes buoyed U.S. stocks for most of the past week, fueling weekly gains of 1.4% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) and 0.9% for the S&P 500 Index (SPX). The Nasdaq Composite Index (RIXF), however, lost 0.3% for the week.
Stocks had suffered sharp declines on Wednesday, with the Dow logging its worst single-day drop in nearly seven weeks as Italy's borrowing costs shot up to levels seen as unsustainable, further worsening Europe's credit mess.
But optimism prevailed as economist Mario Monti was tapped Sunday night to become prime minister and form an interim emergency government in Italy. That followed Saturday action in which the Italian parliament's lower chamber approved a budget bill that includes new austerity measures, after the Senate passed the measure on Friday. Also on Saturday, as expected, controversial Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned, paving the way for the ascension of Monti, an economist and former European commissioner.
"Stocks will continue to be buffeted by European problems, " said Mark Coffelt, president of Empiric Advisors, based in Austin, Texas.
"Any real solution could lead to a bounce of 20% or more" in the U.S. stock market, he said. "Without the European problems, stocks would likely rise, reflecting a slowly strengthening economy. Valuations are reasonable and earnings spectacular."
In the near future, however, U.S. problems with deficits and spending may put pressure on stocks, said Coffelt.
The U.S. congressional supercommittee's panel of 12 lawmakers are faced with the task of coming up with a plan to cut more than $1 trillion from the budget by Nov. 23.
Despite the volatility in equities, "they are the most attractive asset class in terms of valuation, as well as income, and long-term appreciation," Coffelt said.
Data on tap
Next week's U.S. data docket includes retail sales and producer price index on Tuesday, with consumer price index and industrial production due Wednesday and housing starts and Philly Fed on Thursday, followed by leading indicators on Friday.
For October retail sales, "the markets would like to see at least expectations of 0.4%," said Empiric Advisors' Coffelt. "Anything above that should be a plus for stocks." Retail sales in September were up 1.1% month-on-month.
Analysts polled by MarketWatch forecast a rise of 0.4% in industrial production for October versus a 0.2% increase a month earlier.
They don't expect any change to the October consumer price index after a rise of 0.3% a month earlier. Manufacturing in the Philadelphia region is expected show further signs of recovery, with the Philly Fed's diffusion index rising to 10 in November from 8.7 in October.
"Exceeding expectations of 8 -- and especially exceeding the previous month 8.7, would likely give stocks a boost, indicating less likelihood of recession," Coffelt said.
GDP data from the euro zone and CPI figures from the U.K. are set for next week.
"GDP releases for Germany, France and the euro zone will be closely watched to assess the impact of the crisis on the real economy in [the third quarter]," economists at Markit said in a research note Friday. "Growth rates may have rebounded in France and in Germany."
The Bank of England's quarterly inflation report will be released on Wednesday. The report will also give "important insight into how the crisis has affected the growth and inflation outlook," Markit economists said. "The report will no doubt show a more pessimistic growth outlook, and will be scrutinized for clues as to whether more [quantitative easing] will be announced in December."
Among notable U.S. financial reports scheduled for next week, the market will see third-quarter results from Dell Inc. (DELL) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) on Tuesday and fiscal fourth-quarter results from Applied Materials Inc. (AMAT) on Wednesday.
Analysts expect Round Rock, Texas-based Dell to report earnings of 47 cents a share for the quarter, according to a consensus survey by FactSet Research.
"A significant positive surprise would likely help stocks related to personal computers" including Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), said Coffelt.
Analysts expect Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer Wal-Mart to post earnings of 98 cents a share for the quarter ended in October, according to a consensus survey by FactSet.
Also reporting third quarter results next week: Target Corp. (TGT), Urban Outfitters Inc. (URBN), Lowe's Cos. Inc. (LOW), J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (JCP), The Home Depot Inc. (HD), Staples Inc. (SPLS), Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (ANF), and Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD). H.J. Heinz Co. (HNZ) will post results for the second quarter.
Of the 454 companies on the S&P 500 Index that have reported third-quarter results so far, 70% have posted earnings above analyst expectations, according to Jharonne Martis-Olivo, director of consumer research, at Thomson Reuters.
In the S&P 500, there have been 70 negative fourth-quarter earnings outlooks, compared with 22 companies issuing positive earnings guidance, she said in a report on Friday.