Wall St. awaits durable goods, home sales data

/ Source: The Associated Press

The stock market has been rising at an undaunted pace, and Wall Street is curious whether this week’s readings on durable goods and home sales will cause anyone to flinch.

Recently stocks, particularly those of large companies, have advanced even in the face of reports showing economic fragility. Robust data has been read as a good sign the consumer will keep spending, while weak data has been interpreted as a reason for the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates — a move that could lift the market further by freeing up more cash.

The Dow Jones industrial average has steadily advanced about 1,200 points since the beginning of April. Last week, it rose 1.73 percent; the Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1.12 percent, and the Nasdaq composite index slipped 0.15.

The Commerce Department reports on durable goods orders Thursday. According to the median estimate of economists surveyed last Friday by Thomson Financial, they are expected to have increased in April by 0.4 percent, a smaller gain than the 3.4 percent rise in March.

The department also reports on new home sales Thursday, while the National Association of Realtors releases data on existing home sales Friday. The market anticipates new home sales rose in April by 860,000, a slightly larger increase than in March, and existing home sales jumped by 6.115 million, a gain similar to that in March.

In many respects, economic data has taken a backseat to takeovers by big public companies like Microsoft Corp. and private equity firms such as Blackstone Group. The huge deals show that the marketplace is awash in cash, and investors will likely be awaiting another flood of deals this week.

(MSNBC.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal News.)

Still, it’s important to remember that negative data on durable goods and the housing market were two major factors behind the selloff of late February and early March, so investors will be closely monitoring this week’s releases.

The schedule is fairly slim ahead of the Memorial Day holiday next Monday. The bond market will close early Friday.

On Monday, the Chicago Fed releases its April index of national manufacturing activity.

On Tuesday, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker makes a speech in New York.

This week brings quarterly profit results from several retailers, which could help investors gauge the financial health of U.S. consumers.

On Monday, home improvement goods chain Lowe’s Cos. releases its first-quarter earnings. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial are anticipating a profit of 49 cents per share. Lowe’s closed at $32.67 last Friday, at the upper end of its 52-week range of $26.15 to $35.74.

On Tuesday, BJ’s Wholesale Club releases its first-quarter earnings, and analysts forecast a profit of 20 cents per share. The nation’s third-largest retail warehouse club closed at $35.78 last Friday, at the upper end of its 52-week range of $25.18 to $37.35.

Target Corp. releases its first-quarter earnings on Wednesday, and analysts predict the discount retailer will post a profit of 71 cents per share. Target closed at $58.15 last Friday, in the upper half of its 52-week range of $44.70 to $64.74.