Expectations about Black Friday, when Americans traditionally get serious about holiday shopping, could sway stocks next week if it looks like the economy will get a pop from consumer spending.
The outcome of talks to shape a bailout for Ireland could also move stocks, analysts said, but they cautioned that other highly indebted euro zone countries could still be a source of worry.
Even though light volume will define trade during the holiday-shortened week of Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, investors will watch to see if retail sales appear strong enough to give the market a Santa Claus rally.
The lighter-than-average volume expected next week could lead to exaggerated moves in the market after a week of sharp losses and advances.
Further gains would resume an uptrend that began at the end of the summer, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 index up 14% since August 31.
The market was little changed this week and suffered losses the week before.
“Bullish sentiment toward holiday sales is the most likely catalyst for the cyclical bull market to resume, so a lot rests on that,” said Chris Burba, short-term market technician at Standard & Poor’s in New York. If sales seem weak, “this dip could turn into something bigger”.
Retailers have been optimistic in their forecasts for holiday sales, and investors will want to see evidence to support those forecasts as worries about consumer spending weigh on the economic outlook.
At a rate of 9,6%, unemployment is seen as one of the biggest drags on the US economy, Target Corp this week was the latest retailer to give an upbeat forecast, saying it expects to post its best same-store sales in three years during the period.
The day after Thanksgiving traditionally marks the start of the US holiday shopping season and is called Black Friday because retailers make enough sales to get their accounts into black ink.
Shoppers are expected to flood stores in search of bargains while retailers fight for sales. Target, for instance, is using a built-in discount for shoppers who use its store credit card.
“It’s a very competitive retail environment . . . a sign people are slugging it out” for every last sale, said Sasha Kostadinov, portfolio manager at Shaker Investments in Cleveland.
With the recent market weakness, the S&P 500 has had trouble staying above 1 200 and ended just below that level on Friday.
A break above the mark, however, “would be a good sign,” signaling bullish momentum, said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer’s Investment Research.