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Investors Focus on Housing Data and Fed

  Business  -   POSTED: 2007/12/16 16:17

Stock investors smarting from months of volatility are hoping this holiday-shortened week provides signs of a badly-needed yearend rally.

The days leading up to Christmas -- which in recent years have been positive for stocks -- will bring readings on the housing market, minutes from the Federal Reserve's meeting last month, and earnings reports including results from major retailers. The data should keep investors busy as they stare down tumbling home prices, billions of dollars of losses at banks that made losing bets on subprime mortgages, and crude oil flirting with $100 a barrel.

Though the end of the year usually sparks buying, recent developments have made a December rally look like a pipe dream to many market participants, who are simply hoping stocks can hold onto their gains. The Dow Jones industrial average is up 5.73 percent year-to-date, the Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 2.85 percent, and the Nasdaq composite index is up 9.19 percent.

At this point, Wall Street expects the U.S. housing market to keep wilting through next year, and perhaps into 2009. It also assumes financial institutions will be taking another giant round of writedowns during the fourth quarter, one that may be larger than the third quarter's approximately $45 billion in credit-related losses.

What investors remain unsure of is how long it will take the Wall Street banks to bounce back from their losses, and if consumers and the broader economy will survive the worst housing market in decades.

Last week, investors sent stocks higher and lower as they wrestled with uncertainty. The Dow finished last week 1.03 percent; the S&P 500 index ended 0.35 percent, and the Nasdaq finished 0.35 percent.


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