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Preview / MARCH 8 - 14

Data May Give Clue to Market's Next Step

March 08, 2004|From Reuters

Stocks are expected to chop along this week near current levels as investors look to a handful of earnings reports, including results from software company Oracle Corp., and economic data for some clue to the market's next step.

The three major stock indexes have been bunched around two-year highs and are unlikely to break out either up or down until earnings outlooks for the current quarter arrive later this month, analysts said. Data on jobless claims, consumer sentiment and retail sales also will be scrutinized for any signs of weakness in the economy.

Investors will get another glimpse into the health of the technology sector when Texas Instruments Inc. follows the lead of Intel Corp. and provides a first-quarter update after the market closes today.

The outlook for the quarter is generally rosy so far. First-quarter earnings for companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index are expected to rise 15%, according to data from Reuters Research.

That forecast is based partly on the fact that the number of companies raising forecasts in February was more than double the number that lowered outlooks.

Kroger Co., the largest U.S. grocery chain and parent company of Ralphs, is scheduled to report fourth-quarter results Tuesday.

On Thursday Oracle is slated to report results for its fiscal third quarter, while energy company El Paso Corp. is due to report fourth-quarter earnings.

But some analysts say worry about the economy could temper enthusiasm about corporate profits.

The government reported surprisingly weak employment figures for February last week. That threw some doubt on the health of the economy, which may cast a pall over bullish sentiment this week, analysts said.

Investors will get a read Thursday on the job market and the mood of consumers from the government's reports on weekly jobless claims and retail sales.

On Friday, the University of Michigan will give its preliminary read on March consumer sentiment, which is expected to inch up to 95 from 94.4 in February.

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