Wall Street has been running short on inspiration lately and will look to a stream of economic data in the coming week for clues on whether stocks can push beyond the range in which they have been mired in recent weeks.
The reports include figures on housing starts and inflation.
After a short-lived pop following the Federal Reserve's Jan. 31 decision to stand pat on interest rates, stocks have shown little will to move higher, though they also haven't ceded much ground.
Some investors see a need for a more substantive pullback before stocks can build on the gains of the second half of 2006, while others are simply awaiting the next catalyst, arguing that stocks have paused long enough.
Last week, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.5%, the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.7% and the Nasdaq composite index fell 1.2%. The indexes are still higher for the year, however.
Despite the narrow trading range, the increases led to new highs for the Dow as well as the Russell 2,000 index of smaller companies. The arrival of such milestones often leads investors to pause before moving higher and can presage a pullback by investors who think stocks have climbed too far too quickly.
Much of the angst appears to center on a growing sense that the Fed might not lower interest rates for some time. It was enthusiasm over the possibility of a rate cut that helped push stocks sharply higher in the second half of 2006.
Fourth-quarter earnings reports also have added to Wall Street's somewhat lethargic mood. Investors have received mixed messages on how profits will hold up. As earnings reports wind down in the coming weeks, investors will continue to look for signs that profit growth will continue to justify higher stock prices.
The week ahead
* Treasury Department reports on federal budget for January.
* Quarterly earnings reports due from Loews and Yum Brands.
* Commerce Department reports on December trade.
* Earnings reports due from KB Home, Levi Strauss, Marsh & McLennan, MetLife and Nasdaq Stock Market.
* Commerce Department reports on January retail sales and December business inventories.
* Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke to testify before the Senate Banking Committee.
* DaimlerChrysler to announce quarterly earnings and a major restructuring plan that could include job cuts and plant closures.
* Earnings reports due from Coca-Cola, Deere, Delta Air Lines, MGM Mirage and Office Depot.
* Labor Department reports on weekly jobless claims.
* Federal Reserve reports on January industrial production.
* Freddie Mac reports on mortgage rates.
* Earnings reports due from Biogen Idec, Molson Coors Brewing and Vonage Holdings.
* Labor Department reports on producer price index for January.
* Commerce Department reports on January housing starts.
* Earnings reports due from Campbell Soup, Goodyear Tire & Rubber and Hormel Foods.