Markets were upbeat last week, closing positive for the second week in a row as traders digested the first fourth-quarter earnings reports and fresh economic data. The S&P 500 was pushed to a new five-year high, gaining 0.38 percent, while the Dow rose 0.4 percent, and the Nasdaq increased 0.77 percent. The debt ceiling debate is already in swing, with headlines dominated by the idea of minting a trillion dollar coin as a way to sidestep a vote on the ceiling. The comedic suggestion was made in an act of political one-upmanship but isn't a true solution. We hope that with that suggestion out of the way, Congress can get back to its job of making necessary decisions to tackle the deficit and put the U.S. back on firm fiscal ground. With equities at five-year highs, it's time to start thinking about whether the fundamentals can support further upside. Next week, analysts will turn their attention to a slew of economic reports and more earnings data. According to FactSet Research, S&P 500 companies are expected to report overall earnings growth of 2.4 percent for the fourth-quarter of 2012. This is much better than the third-quarter's 1 percent decline; however, much of the growth is expected to come from the financial sector, meaning that other sectors are expected to see growth of just 0.2 percent. Perhaps even more important than the data will be the attitude of business leaders about their prospects this year. Their opinions could provide us with an important clue about growth prospects for the U.S. and global economies. Analyst opinions are mixed, as some expect an upbeat outlook from businesses, while others think we'll see more guarded opinions. Whichever way markets move in the coming weeks, we'll be paying close attention and seeking out opportunities where they arise. While we're pleased with the way markets have performed thus far, we're always on the look out for reversals and turbulence, and we strive to build portfolios that can withstand short-term gyrations.Headlines• Economic growth indicator reaches 18-month high. A measure of future U.S. economic growth rose to its highest level since August 2011, indicating that with fiscal cliff worries behind us, we may have a stronger economy ahead. However, the weekly indicator is volatile, so analysts will be watching future reports closely. • Jobless claims rise, seasonal volatility likely. Despite a rise in jobless claims, details of the report suggest that the job recovery is still ongoing. Jobless claims tend to be very volatile after the holidays as seasonal workers are laid off. However, layoffs have declined and an increasing number of people are voluntarily leaving their jobs - both signs of a healthier job market. • U.S. trade deficit widened in November. A surge of imports led November's trade gap - exports minus imports - to widen 16 percent, surprising economists who had expected the deficit to shrink. This could point to slowing growth in the fourth quarter for when a country imports more than it exports, cash is pulled out of the economy. • Oil prices fall as China's inflation rises. Oil prices fell Friday as analysts became concerned that China's rising inflation will lead central bankers to rein in stimulus measures, leading to slower growth in the oil-hungry nation. Mark Ballenger is an investment and financial planning consultant offering services to individual investors and business owners. His company, Ballenger Asset Management, is located in Avon and can be reached at 970-471-9962. This report has been created with the cooperation of Platinum Advisor Marketing Strategies LLC. Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, a broker-dealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Ballenger is an investment adviser representative for Cambridge Investment Research Advisors Inc., a registered investment adviser. Ballenger Asset Management and Cambridge are not affiliated.
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