Wall St Week Ahead: Are U.S. stocks set for a down year?

By Edward Krudy

NEW YORK, Jan 29 (BestGrowthStock) – The adage ‘as January goes, so
goes the year’ bodes ill for equity investors after the S&P 500
closed out its worst month in almost a year. In the coming
week, they will have to contend with fears of sovereign
defaults and the potential for unpleasant surprises in the U.S.
labor market.

U.S. corporations have so far handily beat analysts’
earnings forecasts. With heavyweights like Exxon Mobil Corp
(XOM.N: ) and United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N: ) set to report
next week, investors will be looking for that to continue,
going some way to offset the perception that political risk is
on the rise.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (.SPX: ) fell 3.7 percent in
January and is off nearly 7 percent from its high this month.
Investors are worried that Greece’s debt troubles may herald a
wave of sovereign defaults in the euro zone that could derail
an economic recovery.

“There’s a lot of concerns going on as far as the sovereign
debt is concerned in a lot of the nations, specifically in the
euro zone,” said David Lutz, managing director of trading at
Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets in Baltimore.

A heavy week for economic data will culminate in Friday’s
non-farm payrolls report. Analysts believe the economy added
5,000 jobs in January, according to a Reuters poll. Another
negative surprise after the previous month’s unexpected surge
in job losses could roil markets.

“The next headline is going to be this unemployment data
that is coming out, and there is no indication it is going to
be moving in the direction in which we want it to move,” said
Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner of Meridian Equity
Partners in New York.

Friday’s jobs number will be presaged by the ADP private-
sector jobs report on Wednesday.

WILL MORE EARNINGS BEATS HELP?

Around 500 U.S. companies have reported quarterly earnings
so far and of those, 73 percent have beaten earnings estimates,
exceeding the 68 percent that beat in the last two quarters,
according to data from Bespoke Investment Group.

But that positive earnings picture has not translated into
gains for the stock market this time around.

Bespoke Investment Group’s data shows the average stock of
a company whose earnings beat estimates gained only 0.8
percent, compared with a 2.9 percent drop in those that
missed.

“The companies beating aren’t being rewarded by nearly as
much as the companies that miss are being punished,” Bespoke
Investment said in its research note.

After consecutive quarters when better-than-expected
earnings helped drive stocks up more than 66 percent from last
year’s lows, fourth-quarter numbers may have already been
factored into the market.

Highlights in the second full week of earnings will include
Exxon Mobil on Monday, which is the first of a number of energy
companies reporting, as well as delivery service UPS on
Tuesday. UPS, viewed as a window on the economy’s health,
raised its profit forecast earlier this month.

Exxon is expected to post earnings per share of $1.19,
while UPS is seen reporting 73 cents per share.

EYES ON THE ECONOMY

The U.S. economy grew at its fastest pace in more than six
years in the fourth quarter of 2009, expanding at an annual
pace of 5.7 percent — much more than most economists had
expected.

There will be an early indication of the sustainability of
growth when the Institute for Supply Management releases its
manufacturing report for January. Economists in a Reuters poll
are expecting a reading of 55.2, showing an expanding sector
for the sixth straight month.

That will be followed by the ISM’s service sector survey on
Wednesday, expected to edge into growth mode after the largest
segment of the U.S. economy struggled to find its footing in
the fourth quarter of last year.

“The economy is showing no signs of a self-sustaining
recovery,” said David Wright, portfolio manager at Sierra Core
Retirement Fund in Santa Monica.

“Essentially the fuel was used in sustaining the rally as
far as it did, and we are now beginning a down cycle that I
expect to be prolonged and severe.”

For the final week of January, the S&P 500 slid 1.7
percent, while the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: ) declined
1.1 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC: ) fell 2.6
percent.

For the month of January, the blue-chip Dow average dropped
3.5 percent — close to the S&P 500’s 3.7 percent decline —
and the Nasdaq lost 5.4 percent.

If this January is anything to go by — and the Stock
Trader’s Almanac shows only six major occasions since 1950 when
January’s performance has not been an indicator for the rest of
the year — Wright’s prediction may come true.
(The Wall St Week Ahead column appears every Friday. Comments
or questions on this one can be e-mailed to
[email protected])

Stock Market

(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Additional reporting by Chuck
Mikolajczak and Ellis Mnyandu; Editing by Jan Paschal)

Wall St Week Ahead: Are U.S. stocks (Read more about the stock market today. ) set for a down year?