Market Will Have Few War Talk Distractions

From Reuters, Bloomberg News

Most Americans will be waiting this week to see whether the United Nations backs a second resolution that calls for war on Iraq if it fails to disarm. But President Bush has warned that the U.S. is ready to strike with or without a U.N. green light.

The U.N. vote comes during a week with few major corporate earnings reports and just a handful of key economic reports, leaving investors and others at the mercy of the fast-changing geopolitical scene.

Corporate earnings from drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb, food manufacturer H.J. Heinz Co., supermarket chain Kroger Co. and software designer Adobe Systems Inc. may offer a slight distraction. But the rush of the fourth-quarter earnings season has passed. Most companies have already confessed to investors that the outlook isn't bright, given the struggling economy and geopolitical tensions.

A government report on retail sales on Thursday isn't expected to paint a rosier picture. Retail sales for February are expected to dip 0.4% versus a decline of 0.9% in January. Stripping out autos, retail sales are seen down 0.1% contrasted with a jump of 1.3% in January.

Investors will pay special attention to Thursday's weekly jobless claims data. The number of Americans lining up for first-time unemployment benefits is expected to total 419,000 in the week ended March 8, compared with 430,000 the previous week.

In February, the U.S. economy suffered its worst drop in jobs since the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Labor Department reported Friday.

"The employment report was supposed to be weak, but it was much weaker than expected," Davidson said. "But I think an awful lot more attention is on geopolitical events than economic data. It's already stolen the spotlight."

Other economic reports this week:

* Tuesday, Commerce Department will issue its January report on wholesale inventories;

* Wednesday, Commerce Department will report on U.S. trade figures for January;

* Friday, University of Michigan will release its consumer sentiment index for March;

* Commerce Department will issue its January report on business inventories;

* Federal Reserve will report on industrial production during January.

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