Traders hope for solid start to holiday shopping, look to economic growth data

TORONTO – North American stock markets could be in for a slower than usual week amid concerns about when the Federal Reserve might start to cut back on stimulus measures while winding down for the Thanksgiving holiday.

But things will pick up at the end of the week when markets start to find out how enthusiastic shoppers were at the unofficial start to the U.S. holiday shopping season, Black Friday.

As well, Statistics Canada issues its gross domestic product readings for September and the third quarter on Friday, and that may help the Canadian dollar as the data is expected to show the Canadian economy put in a better than expected performance.

“The signs are, aided by a rebound from both the flood effects and the Quebec construction strike in June, the Canadian economy looks set to turn in a fairly decent performance in Q3,” said Peter Buchanan, senior economist with CIBC World Markets.

“Or at least what passes for fairly healthy given the somewhat tepid growth that we have had over the last year or two,” Buchanan added.

He says CIBC is looking at growth coming in at an annualized pace of 2.8 per cent — a full percentage point higher than what the Bank of Canada has forecast. Performance was helped along by October retail sales data that was released on Friday. Sales rose one per cent, much higher than the 0.3 per cent gain that economists had expected.

The loonie fell almost three-quarters of a cent last week with the greenback gaining ground mid-week after minutes from the Fed’s latest meeting suggested the U.S. central bank will start reducing its US$85 billion of monthly bond purchases in coming months.

These worries about tapering have cast a cloud on markets ever since May when outgoing Fed chairman Ben Bernanke first mentioned the possibility of the central bank starting to cut back on those purchases, which have kept long-term rates low and encouraged investors to pile into the equity markets.

This latest, third episode of quantitative easing has underpinned a strong U.S. rally that has seen the Dow industrials surge more than 20 per cent this year.

Both the Dow and the S&P 500 closed at record highs on Friday. The Dow finished the week at 16,064.77 after having closed above 16,000 for the first time on Thursday, while the S&P 500 climbed 8.91 points to 1,804.76, its first ever close above 1,800.

The TSX is only up a bit over eight per cent, with the index held back by big slides in precious and base metal stocks.

The TSX ended the week flat as declining miners, particularly gold stocks, cancelled out rising financial and energy stocks while the Dow was up 0.64 per cent.

In the U.S., traders will take in economic data covering housing starts and prices, a major regional manufacturing survey from the Midwest and the latest consumer sentiment indicators.

And while those reports are important in determining when the Fed will think the time is right to start tapering asset purchases, traders will be especially anxious for details on how the holiday shopping season pans out.

“By the time the market opens on Friday, you’re going to have people who have done some preliminary counts of how long the lines are,” said Buchanan, who also noted that “one danger of course is that in past years, on occasion good sales at Thanksgiving have simply pulled sales from December.”

New York markets are only open for a half-session Friday while the Toronto exchange close at its usual time.