Stocks: What will the consumer do?


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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — It’s shaping up to be another rough week.

As investors put the recent spate of disappointing housing news behind them, they’ll turn their attention to the consumer, with reports due on consumer confidence and personal income and spending.

“Consumer confidence has been moving higher on a regular basis, and if it continues to remain on a path to improvement — the focus will turn to what are the forward expectations,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist with Janney Montgomery Scott.

Last month, the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose to its highest level in a year. This week, economists are expecting that number to continue to nudge higher for March.

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It’s the “numbers within the numbers” that are going to be important drivers this week, Luschini said. With personal income and spending, due before the market opens Friday, Luschini said the spending and savings numbers will be key to determining just how resilient consumers are.

Aside from the consumer-focused data, reports on pending home sales and Case-Shiller’s 20-city index are on tap for the week, but experts don’t expect much impact unless there’s a huge surprise. The same goes for durable goods orders and weekly unemployment claims, which are back at a four-year low.

Investors will also get a look at just how healthy the U.S. economy was at the end of last year, when the Commerce Department reports its third reading on fourth-quarter gross domestic product. Experts don’t expect to see much change from the prior GDP estimate of 3%.

U.S. stocks have had a great year so far but are coming off a choppy week: Only the Nasdaq (COMP) was able to eke out a gain of 0.5%, while the SP 500 (SPX) and Dow (INDU) closed down 1.1% and 0.5% respectively.

And experts say investors should expect more of the same this week.

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Luschini wasn’t quite ready to say the market was in a correction just yet. “It’s too soon to tell,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect a sharp sell off but investors should be ready for some “grinding.”

“This requires some patience,” Luschini said. After the steady rally this year, a pullback isn’t that unexpected.

The Nasdaq is up nearly 18% in 2012. Both the SP 500 and the Dow are up 11% and 7% for the year.

Aside from the smattering of economic data, there will still be some corporate results for investors to chew on this week. Among the notable companies are Apollo Group (APOL, Fortune 500), Lennar (LEN), Walgreen (WAG, Fortune 500), Red Hat (RHT), Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500), Family Dollar (FD) and Research in Motion (RIMM). To top of page

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