This week will see the publication of the minutes of the Federal Reserve's last monthly meeting with Ben Bernanke as its chairman. Interested parties will be scanning between the lines to determine to what degree the Fed's tapering of its latest round quantitative easing will continue, among other indicators.
Tapering continues this month with a $10 billion slice; although many will hunt for clues as to the program's future, don't expect any smoking gun revelation given that Bernanke and his successor Janet Yellen have strongly hinted that it will continue.
Looking at the economy from the top down, the next few days will see a few key macro numbers released. These include the consumer price index, the Empire State (i.e., New York) manufacturing index, and critically for mortgage lenders, the Census Bureau's new residential construction figures released on Wednesday. The latter includes the January figures for housing starts, which, because of awful weather will almost certainly be down from those of December.
This is of particular concern to the nation's top mortgage lenders, especially big daddy Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) and No. 2 JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM). Both could use encouraging news in the construction sphere, but Wells is probably hungrier for something that'll juice the segment -- apparently the bank's resorted to lowering its threshold for the creditworthiness of its potential mortgage borrowers.
Morgan, meanwhile, has a famous financier bullish about its prospects. George Soros' eponymous fund management behemoth has disclosed its latest portfolio, revealing that in Q4 of last year, the ever-sharp investor grabbed a stake of over 2.8 million shares of the bank. Soros is also a believer in the future of Citigroup (NYSE:C), buying almost 2.3 million shares during the quarter. That should add to the growing positive sentiment about the big lender in some circles.
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B), famously a massive shareholder in Wells Fargo, also added to its financial holdings during the quarter. Buffett's pick was investment banking stalwart Goldman Sachs, with Berkshire exercising warrants to build a stake of 12.6 million shares. As with Soros and Citi/Morgan, we shouldn't be surprised to see a resultant lift in bullish outlook for Goldman over the next few days.
This week, as with any week dating back to about 2009, one of the nation's banking incumbents will be the subject of a legal proceeding. On Wednesday, the New York State Supreme Court will hear arguments from several parties wanting to delay Bank of America's (NYSE:BAC) proposed $8.5 billion settlement with investors aggrieved about their soured crisis-era purchases of securities backed by mortgages from Countrywide Financial (purchased by Bank of America in 2008).
Those investors, including insurance giant American International Group, want the final judgement delayed, claiming further litigation is warranted in order to fix the details of the settlement.
Well, at least there aren't any more lawsuits coming down the pike over the next few days... not yet, at any rate. That's good, because there are Fed minutes to pore over, macro numbers to ponder, and big portfolios to follow. There will be enough to for the nation's financials to deal with this week.
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Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American International Group, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo. It owns shares of American International Group, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo and has the following options: long January 2016 $30 calls on American International Group.
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