These are the catalysts to watch with stocks at record highs


These are the catalysts to watch with stocks at record highs

So far, stocks have steered clear of the latest oil slick, but volatile oil prices could still drive markets in the week ahead, as well as a last hoorah for first quarter earnings, and Chinese and U.S. economic data. But first, the French election on Sunday will set the tone for global markets. Emmanuel Macron is expected to beat Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate, by a fairly wide margin. If that happens, a cloud will be lifted, and it could be a positive for the euro and European stocks, already in a strong rally mode. If there's a surprise, analysts expect a flight to safety and selling in risk assets. In the U.S., Friday's solid April jobs report and stunning drop in unemployment to 4.4 percent cleared up some concern that the first quarter's economic malaise would linger into the second quarter. The 211,000 new jobs in April offset the meager 79,000 for March, and economists see the labor market continuing to improve. But economic reports will remain important, with markets setting up for a Fed interest rate hike in June, based on the belief that the first quarter's weak, 0.7 percent growth rate was transitory. Retail sales and CPI inflation data next Friday are the big reports for the U.S., while China trade and foreign exchange reserves are expected before the U.S. opens Monday. Chinese inflation data will come Tuesday. Worries about Chinese growth hit commodities markets hard last week with copper losing nearly 3 percent.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq closed out a quiet week at record highs, with the S&P 500 up 0.6 percent at 2399, even as crude lost. The Nasdaq gained 0.9 percent to 6,100, and the Dow edged up 0.3 percent to 21,006. Treasury yields rose with the 10-year yield at 2.34 percent late Friday, up from 2.28 percent the week earlier. But some traders had expected bond yields, which move inversely to price, to break out of their recent range on the jobs report. Treasurys and stocks will be focused on a fresh batch of data in the coming week. The core consumer price index, to be reported Friday, is expected to rise 2 percent year-over-year. This will be important for the Fed, which noted in its statement Wednesday that there was a drop off in inflation in March.

No more shop 'til you drop

Retail sales may get the most attention, however. They should show a healthy rise of 0.6 percent Friday, and that would ease some concerns about consumers after reports of softer-than-expected car sales in April. "The consumer is still there. The consumer is willing to spend on experience," said Diane Swonk, CEO of DS Economics. She said a quarter of the jobs in April were added in leisure and hospitality, reflecting Americans' desire to dine out and go on vacation. But retailers added just 6,000 workers after serious declines in prior months, reflecting the shutdown of brick-and-mortar stores as consumers spend more online. Also reflecting the change should be the earnings of Macy's, Nordstrom, Kohl's and other chain stores reporting in the week ahead. "This could be the first time during this earnings season that all of a sudden our concern is that consumers aren't spending," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. He added that it would be a mistake to draw that conclusion, however, when department stores talk about lackluster sales and store closings. "There will be some comments [from retailers]… saying we've got too many square feet. We're going to shut down stores. It's the structural changes that are due to Amazon and millennials not wanting to buy apparel, but experience," said Hogan.

Oil gets drilled

West Texas Intermediate crude futures crashed through a series of support levels as traders dumped oil this past week. Brent crude, the international benchmark was trading below the key $50 per barrel level. WTI futures steadied Friday but were down 6.3 percent for the week at $46.22 per barrel. "When you see the $53 to $45 move, if that had happened last year we would be worked that's a barometer for global demand. None of that first derivative trade happened," said Hogan. "High yield didn't get blow out. It's more contained, and if it stays in the sort of $46 to $50 range, I think we're fine." OPEC and other major producers are expected to extend their agreement to hold 1.8 million barrels a day off the market. OPEC meets May 25, and the market has been nervous ahead of that meeting, particularly as U.S. production is rising and Libya has returned crude to the market. "We're going to see if the overhang from the first quarter wears off," said Eric Lee, Citigroup energy analyst. "We think the OPEC cuts are pretty substantial and they help re-balancing the market by drawing down inventories." Lee said he believes the market is at an inflection point where the re-balancing is still not having a visible impact. Part of the problem was that producers increased their output just before the production deal went into effect in January."