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January 30, 2007 > Fed meeting, earnings rush to top Wall Street agenda

Fed meeting, earnings rush to top Wall Street agenda

By Tim Paradis

NEW YORK (AP), Jan 26 _ Wall Street, often chided as an avenue of excess, might finally get its fill in the coming week.

Investors have spent much of the new year careening from one notion to another about the health of the economy and the direction of the markets. In times when self-assuredness doesn't seem so fleeting, Wall Street's penchant for fresh data isn't as noticeable. But investors could be forgiven for feeling dizzy over the forthcoming news: a statement from the Federal Reserve's interest rate committee, a raft of economic figures and a crush of earnings reports.

Investors are hoping the figures and comments will help determine whether recent bouts of uncertainty about the direction of the markets have been warranted. Last week, the Dow fell 0.50 percent, the Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 0.46 percent and the Nasdaq composite index lost 0.70 percent. The indexes remain barely higher for the year.

Looming large on the week's agenda will be the Fed's first meeting of the year, a two-day affair that begins Tuesday. While investors have long since given up hope for a cut in interest rates at the meeting, they will no doubt pounce on any signals that might reveal the central bank's intentions for the future.

Recent economic data, though at times promising for the health of the economy, has left some investors with mixed feelings; strong economic readings dim chances the Fed will soon lower interest rates. The Fed has left rates unchanged at its last four meetings, interrupting a string of 17 straight increases. The double-digit climb in stocks last year came amid enthusiasm over the strength of corporate earnings and a contention that the Fed would lower rates shortly into the new year. So the news in the coming week could help indicate whether stocks are poised to march higher.

ECONOMIC DATA

Beyond the start of the Fed's Open Market Committee meeting on Tuesday, investors will be looking for figures from the Conference Board, an industry group, on consumer confidence for January.

Wednesday brings not only the Fed's statement following its meeting but a torrent of data, with the Commerce Department's advance reading on fourth-quarter gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy.

The day also will include the Labor Department's employment cost index for the fourth quarter.

Other figures set for Wednesday include weekly data on U.S. crude inventories and the Chicago Purchasing Managers index of business conditions. The Commerce Department also weighs in with figures on construction spending for December.

Thursday brings figures on personal income for December from the Commerce Department. Data on pending home sales and vehicle sales for January are also due.

The Institute for Supply Management is expected to report on conditions in the manufacturing sector.

Friday, the Labor Department's report on January unemployment caps a week of chockablock full of key economic data. The job market has remained robust, adding to investor confidence about the health of the economy and consumer spending, but setting off some concerns about wage inflation.

The Commerce Department is expected to release data on December factory orders and the University of Michigan's final consumer sentiment report for January is due.

EARNINGS

On Monday, Verizon Communications Inc. starts the week with a report on fourth-quarter earnings. Wall Street expects the company, whose stock has traded from $29 to $38.49 in the past 52 weeks, to earn 61 cents per share. The stock finished Friday at $37.83.

Tuesday, 3M Co. expects to release fourth-quarter results. Wall Street expects the company, which like Verizon is part of the Dow industrials, to earn $1.14 per share. The stock closed Friday at $78.69 and has traded from $67.05 to $88.35.

On Wednesday, Google Inc. turns in fourth-quarter results. The Internet search company, which has often surprised Wall Street with better-than-expected profits, is seen earning $2.90 per share. The stock closed Friday at $495.84 and has traded from $331.55 to $513 in the past 52 weeks.

On Thursday, Amazon.com Inc. plans to report results for its fourth-quarter. The company is expected to earn 21 cents per share. The shares, which have traded from $25.76 to $45.97 in the past 52 weeks, closed Friday at $36.85.

Exxon Mobil Corp., which took in record profits following the run-up in oil prices over the summer is due to report fourth-quarter earnings Thursday. Wall Street predicts the company will earn $1.51 per share. The stock closed Friday at $73.61 and has traded from $56.64 to $79 in the past 52 weeks.

Friday brings a fourth-quarter report from Exxon rival Chevron Corp. The energy company is seen as earning $1.73 per share. The stock, which traded from $53.76 to $76.20 in the past 52 weeks, finished at $71.50 Friday.

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