US economic data in focus to pull US markets up

WALL Street may feel more pressure this week unless a raft of economic data, including consumer confidence, home sales and gross domestic product (GDP), restores the optimism that had driven a two-month rally before fading last week.<br /><br />Investors cited the potential bankruptcy of General Motors as a concern, as further job losses could imperil the US economy. Such an event, even though it is anticipated, would not help sentiment, which is already subdued after the major US stock indexes fell on Thursday and Friday due to worries about the US budget deficit.<br /><br />Since the markets peaked two weeks ago on 8 May, stocks have given back some of their gains over doubts about the speed of the economic recovery. US stocks were higher through most of the session Friday, but sagged at the end of the day as investors sought to reduce positions heading into the three-day Memorial Day holiday weekend.<br /><br />For the week, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 per cent, while the Standard &amp; Poor&rsquo;s 500 gained 0.5 per cent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.7 per cent.<br /><br />The S&amp;P 500 has risen 31 per cent since hitting a 12-year closing low on 9 March, which some analysts said put it at risk of a pullback, while the holiday-shortened week could exaggerate moves in the market due to light trading volume.<br /><br />The economic calendar is fairly busy despite the short week, and may prove to be the bright spot to reaffirm investors&rsquo; recent optimism that the recession is ebbing.<br /><br />Friday marks the preliminary reading of US GDP for the first quarter, which is forecast to shrink at an annual rate of 5.5 per cent.<br /><br />Also on tap are readings on May consumer confidence.<br /><br />The housing market will get more scrutiny when existing home sales are released tomorrow and new home sales are released on Thursday. Both reports will cover April data.<br /><br />US existing home sales are estimated to have risen in April to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 4.66m units, up from 4.57m in March. New home sales are projected to have inched up to an annual pace of 360,000 units in April from 356,000 in March.<br /><br />Earnings season has nearly come to a close, as 484 companies in the S&amp;P 500 had reported through Friday, leaving just a handful of retailers, including Tiffany, Dell and Costco Wholesale for this week.