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World Week Ahead: US earnings top agenda

US corporate earnings will take centre stage in the coming days with companies such as JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson and Intel reporting.

Investors will also watch for further potential stock buybacks. On Friday, shares of General Electric soared, closing 10.8 percent higher, after the company announced a restructuring plan and a share buyback of up to US$50 billion. GE said it plans to exit most of its finance business.

"The announcement of the GE share buyback is gargantuan, and with it being a very widely-held position, a share price boost is also boosting investor portfolios and stock indices," Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist in Philadelphia at Janney Capital Management, told Bloomberg.

Last week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 1.7 percent, as did the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, while the Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 2.2 percent. Equities advanced on acquisitions and comments from Federal Reserve officials that rates might not rise as soon and as quickly as anticipated amid reports showing the US economy has lost some steam in recent weeks.

Friday's jump in GE shares helped boost the Dow to close at 18,057.65, moving closer to its record high of 18,288.63 set in March.

"If we continue to see buybacks and higher dividends, and I suspect we will, that makes a more convincing case for equities going forward," David Lebovitz, global market strategist for JP Morgan Asset Management in New York, told Reuters.

Expectations for the latest US earnings season are low. Profits of companies on the S&P 500 are projected to have declined by 2.9 percent in the first three months from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Still, equities should continue to move higher.

"I would expect individual stocks to make new highs and I think the odds are very good that indexes will reach new highs as well," Bruce Zaro, chief technical strategist at Bolton Global Asset Management in Boston, told Reuters.

Several Fed officials might offer further clues on interest rates in the coming days. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota will talk on Tuesday, followed by St Louis Fed chief James Bullard, as well as Fed vice chair Stanley Fischer, and Richmond's Jeffrey Lacker on Wednesday. Atlanta's Dennis Lockhart, Dallas Fed chief Richard Fisher, Cleveland's Loretta Mester, and Boston's Eric Rosengren will speak on Thursday.

A slew of economic data is scheduled for release this week too. Reports include the producer price index, retail sales, NFIB small business optimism index, and business inventories, due Tuesday; Empire State manufacturing survey, industrial production, Atlanta Fed business inflation expectations, and the housing market index, due Wednesday; housing starts, weekly jobless claims, and the Philadelphia Fed business outlook survey, due Thursday; as well as the consumer price index, consumer sentiment, and leading indicators, due Friday.

The Fed's Beige Book is due on Wednesday.

Key for investors is interpreting what the regional Fed chiefs are saying and whether the data might persuade the central bank to start lifting interest rates as soon as June. Most bets are pointing to a September move. Yet the economy's recent swoon, seen as transitory, has led some market watchers to delay a rate rise until later in the year or until 2016.

Last week, shortened by the Easter Monday holiday, Europe's Stoxx 600 Index rallied 3.8 percent to close at a record high on Friday. Both the UK's FTSE 100 and Germany's DAX set record highs on Friday and France's CAC 40 reached its highest since 2008.

"This year will be Europe's answer to what US equities gave us in 2013," Peter Garnry, Saxo Bank's head of equity strategy, told Bloomberg. "Companies are facing extremely cheap financing rates, the lowest euro in a decade, low oil prices, QE and an improving economy. If all these positive factors can't get Europe back on track, then nothing will."

Oil moved higher, with both Brent and US crude posting gains of at least 5 percent for the week.

 

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