NEW YORK (Reuters) –
Wall Street is likely to make a strong showing in the final week of 2009 as the bulls gear up to toast the first annual advance for U.S. stocks in two years on hopes of more economic stability in 2010.
The U.S. stock market's resiliency since the March bottom has put investors in the mood to celebrate. The trading week will be cut short by the New Year's Day holiday on Friday, when U.S. financial markets will be closed.
The S&P 500 is poised for what could possibly be its best year since 2003 -- in sharp contrast to a year ago, when stocks plummeted in the fallout from the mortgage crisis and panic rocked investors as 2009 got under way.
Even though no "all clear" has been sounded for the U.S. economy, equity strategists said stocks were poised to add to recent gains this week and build a base for a solid start to 2010 as optimism about the recovery grows.
There is an expectation now that economic indicators will keep showing improvements in key areas like housing and the labor market.
"There's an upward bias," said Alan Lancz, president of Alan B. Lancz & Associates Inc, an investment advisory firm, based in Toledo, Ohio. "Economic numbers have been good. It's been an ideal situation for equities as there aren't that many other alternatives. I think the smarter money is going into equities."
The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 (.SPX) started out November in a tight trading range. But by Christmas Eve, when stock trading ended early for the holiday, the S&P 500 had climbed to a 14-month closing high as investors bet the recovery would be strong enough to justify loftier stock valuations. U.S. markets were closed on Friday for Christmas.
DOUBLE-DIGIT GAINS FOR 2009
The S&P 500 is up 66.5 percent from a 12-year closing low set on March 9. Its trading levels now imply a forward price/earnings ratio of 15.5, according to Thomson Reuters data.
And oh, what a difference a year makes. The S&P 500 ended 2008 down 38.5 percent.
But for 2009, the S&P 500 is up 24.7 percent -- a gain that puts the broad market index on track for what could be its best year since 2003. An even stronger advance this week could put the S&P 500 in position for its best year since 1998.
For 2009, the Dow is up 19.9 percent and the Nasdaq is up 45 percent.
"The market is telling us that the economy is a lot stronger than people are giving it credit" for, said Cleveland Rueckert, a market analyst at Birinyi Associates in Stamford, Connecticut.
Although there might be some profit-taking in the final days of the year, the stock market's underlying tone should still be positive, Reuckert added.
"In our view, the market is going to go higher."
The ritual of window dressing should also support the stock market in the coming week, according to analysts. That strategy involves selling stocks with large losses and buying winners near the end of the year or quarter to improve a portfolio's performance.
"The fact that it's year-end is going to cause a fair amount of volatility on probably relatively light volume," said Michael James, senior trader at regional investment bank Wedbush Morgan in Los Angeles. "I would expect the bias would be to the upside toward the end of the week."
Volatility may be enhanced in a holiday-shortened week, when the U.S. stock market will be open for only four days.
Volume may be exceptionally light, with many market participants taking time off through New Year's Day.
CONSUMER CONFIDENCE ON TAP
Economic and corporate calendars are light this week. But there will be a few items worth keeping an eye on, including the U.S. Treasury's auctions of $118 billion of two-year, five-year and seven-year notes.
Investors will watch for how much demand there is for U.S. government debt as efforts to revive the economy pump up government spending.
As the holiday shopping season comes to a close, the Conference Board's index of December consumer confidence will merit Wall Street's attention on Tuesday. The forecast calls for a December reading of 52.3, up from 49.5 in November, according to economists polled by Reuters.
Investors will note the October S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, also due on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago's December index of business activity in the U.S. Midwest region is set for release. The median forecast of economists polled by Reuters puts the ISM-Chicago index at 55.0 in December, down from 56.1 in November. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.
The government report on weekly jobless claims is due to be released on Thursday. Reports on the labor market are being scrutinized closely as investors try to determine when job growth might resume.
November's surprisingly upbeat nonfarm payrolls report showed the U.S. unemployment rate dipped to 10 percent from 10.2 percent. That slight improvement in the job market led investors to wonder about the potential removal of some of the U.S. Federal Reserve's stimulus measures and the prospects for interest-rate increases next year.
But to keep the fledgling recovery going, the Fed pledged again on December 16, at the end of its last policy meeting, to keep interest rates low for an extended period of time.
The Fed is hard-pressed to prevent the economy from sliding back into a slump, which would result in a double-dip recession.
The policy of near-zero interest rates has let investors to borrow dollars cheaply to then invest in higher-yielding assets like stocks.
"We think it's a good time to be invested in equities, and equities continue to offer the best risk-reward (ratio) among the major financial assets," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, New York.
(Reporting by Ellis Mnyandu; Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr and Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)
BEIJING (Reuters) –
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday struck a defiant note about the country's controversial exchange rate policy, saying the government would not give into foreign demands to let the yuan rise.
Wen said the currency was facing growing pressure to appreciate, but insisted that China was committed to keeping it stable, having virtually pegged it to the dollar since the global financial crisis worsened in the middle of last year.
"We will not yield to any pressure of any form forcing us to appreciate. As I have told my foreign friends, on one hand, you are asking for the yuan to appreciate, and on the other hand, you are taking all kinds of protectionist measures," he said.
"The true purpose (of these calls) is to contain China's development," he added in an interview with the official Xinhua news agency.
The yuan has fallen against the currencies of most of its trading partners this year because it has been fixed to a weakening dollar, while China's economy has bounced back strongly. U.S. senators have asked for an investigation into whether current yuan policy represents a form of subsidy that would justify tariffs on Chinese imports.
Wen also repeated an oft-made declaration that the stable yuan had contributed to the global economic recovery.
A series of foreign policymakers, including U.S. President Barack Obama, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, have visited China in recent months to press for an appreciation of the yuan.
But many analysts believe that Chinese leaders will want to see several consecutive months of increasing exports before letting the yuan resume the path of gradual appreciation it followed from 2005 to mid-2008.
The market expects a roughly 2.7 percent appreciation of the yuan over the next 12 months, according to offshore forwards pricing.
Wen gave a cautious outlook for the domestic economy in 2010, saying it was too early to wind down the government's stimulus policies but that officials needed to be attentive to surging property prices and incipient inflation.
Although China would continue to encourage citizens to buy homes for their own use, differentiated interest rates would be used as a tool to fight property market speculation, Wen said.
He was apparently referring to a policy proposal that China could keep preferential mortgages -- a discount of up to 30 percent on benchmark lending rates -- for people buying their first homes but eliminate them for additional home purchases.
More broadly, Wen warned on imbalances rising from too much bank lending while defending China's use of a 4 trillion yuan stimulus package to fend off the global economic crisis.
"Parts of the economy are not balanced, not coordinated, and not sustainable," Wen said, repeating previous statements.
It would be better if lending by Chinese banks was not on such a large scale, Wen added.
China's overall lending situation had improved in the second half of the year, when banks dramatically slowed their pace of credit issuance after a record surge in the first half, Wen said.
Chinese bank are on course to lend an unprecedented 9.5 trillion yuan ($1.4 trillion) this year, double last year's total. The market expects new loans to fall to about 7.5 trillion yuan next year.
This time last year, central planners facing a sharp downturn in external demand for Chinese exports worried the country would be unable to reach the 8 percent growth deemed necessary to maintain employment and avert social instability.
With the country on track for about 9 percent growth this year and an even faster expansion next year, concerns have instead shifted to whether pockets of the economy are overheating and whether inflation could flare up.
Wen warned that although there is no sign of inflation at present, this year's exceptional money supply growth could stoke inflationary expectations and that inflation could appear. But he said the government was committed to seeing through its massive two-year stimulus package, launched in late 2008.
"If we have a too-early exit of the stimulus policies, we may lose all that we have already achieved," he said.
(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby; editing by John Stonestreet)
SEOUL (Reuters) –
The United Arab Emirates is likely to announce the results of one of the world's biggest nuclear power contracts later Sunday, South Korean media reported.
South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak is currently visiting the UAE in a push to win one of the largest-ever energy deals of the Middle East estimated to be worth $40 billion to build several nuclear reactors.
"A South Korean consortium is very likely to win the nuclear power deal issued by the UAE," Korean news agency Yonhap said on Sunday, quoting sources in the UAE. Another local media agency YTN said the announcement would be made later Sunday at the earliest.
The Korean consortium includes Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) (015760.KS), Hyundai Engineering and Construction (000720.KS), Samsung C&T Corp (000830.KS), and Doosan Heavy Industries (034020.KS).
Other bidders for the massive project include a consortium of General Electric Co (GE.N) and Westinghouse Electric, a subsidiary of Toshiba Corp (6502.T), and a French consortium led by EDF (
"If selected as the final business partner, South Korea will be taking its first steps from being a nuclear power importer toward being one of the world's top 3 nuclear power developers, which will be the historic milestone," said Kim Eun-hye, a Korean presidential office spokeswoman.
The French consortium was initially seen as a front-runner for the deal but it recently appeared to be losing ground to the Korean group.
The UAE is the world's third-largest oil exporter, but is planning to build a number of nuclear reactors to meet an expected need for an additional 40,000 megawatts of power.
(Reporting by Cho Mee-young; Editing by Valerie Lee)