The anticipation of Helicopter Ben's date with the press, the waiting game for Raj Rajaratnam's verdict and the speculation surrounding Japanese recovery. As we previewed last week, a slew of better-than-expected earnings powered a surge in stock prices last week. Here's what we're watching…
1. Earnings Bonanza: Quarterly results were the driver for equity markets last week, with a slew of big beats helping the Dow to a multi-year high before the Easter holiday. This week won't be a letdown, with no fewer than 180 S&P 500 components set to report. Buzzworthy content distributor Netflix is the standout Monday, delivering numbers after the Market close. Everyone's got an opinion about Reed Hastings' company, but the consensus calls for earnings per share of $1.07.
2. Raj Watch: Can you be guilty of insider trading if you don't, in fact, trade on insider information? Accused hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam sure hopes that's the conclusion, with closing arguments likely to wrap Monday, leaving his fate in the hands of jury deliberation. Of course, it's more than just Raj wondering what the 12 men and women decide. Observers anticipate a wave of similar suits if the government wins.
3. What New Homes?: February's new home sales data was historically terrible, indicating an annualized rate less than 20% the size of its peak rate six years prior. See: housing bubble. And, really, why would there be a bounce back? Unemployment remains, consumer sentiment is weak and the real estate market is plagued by a glut of inventory. Monday's March numbers shouldn't be as apocalyptic as what we saw in February, but don't expect a ton of good news.
4. Forecasting Japan: The Bank of Japan is expected to slice the country's 2011 growth outlook from 1.6% to 0.8% in the wake of the earthquake-related devastation that still grips the island nation. Investors are trying to make some sense of Japanese recovery, as the Nikkei has rebounded by more than 10% since its post-quake low, but remains more than 10% off its February highs.
5. Waiting for Ben: Ok, earnings aren't alone on everyone's radar as the essential driver this week. On Wednesday, the Fed's Open Market Committee concludes a policy meeting. While that's never less than noteworthy, this edition marks the inaugural Fed news conference at which Chairman Ben Bernanke will answer questions. Markets will hang on every word.