Dow Futures Flat With the Fed in Focus

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Stock index futures at 7:30 a.m. EDT indicate that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) will begin the trading down by a mere point after ending last week 2.2% in the hole. Wall Street is looking forward to Wednesday, when the Federal Reserve will release minutes from its July meeting.

That report should provide clues about when the Fed will start scaling back its bond-buying program. Rising bets that the "tapering" might begin as early as next month have pushed long-term interest rates up. Ten-year treasury yields are now sitting near a two-year high.

10 Year Treasury Rate Chart

10 Year Treasury Rate data by YCharts.

When the Fed talks
The Fed's reports do tend to move markets, so investors can expect some volatility ahead. However, trying to guess exactly what the Fed will do, or how the market will react to those moves, can be a crapshoot. Investors should focus instead on corporate earnings -- the real drivers of long-term stock-appreciation.

By that measure, we'll get some important updates about the health of retail businesses in the coming days. Last week was a rough one for consumer stocks, as poor results from Macy's, Wal-Mart, and Nordstrom pushed the sector down by 3% to make it one of the worst performers in the market last week.

Earnings on tap
But a rebound could be in store Tuesday, when Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) will announce its second-quarter earnings results. With the housing market recovering, the home improvement retailer is expected to turn in some banner results. Analysts are forecasting a 20% rise in profit to $1.21per share. Comparable sales are expected to jump by 7%, the highest growth among all major retailers that Thomson Reuters tracks.

On the other hand, expectations are much lower for Target's (NYSE: TGT  ) earnings, which are due out Wednesday morning. Colder spring weather drove surprisingly bad results in Target's first quarter, and a quick rebound doesn't appear to be in the cards. Analysts expect the retailer's profit to shrink to $0.98 a share from the $1.06 it reported a year ago.

Still, Target has seen loyalty rates spike as it pushes customers to sign up for its Red Card program. That has driven a nice bounce in annual average spending by shoppers. We'll find out on Wednesday whether that was enough to help Target overcome the generally weak consumer environment.

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