Eric Schmidt is set to make way for Larry Page, jobs numbers are set to take center stage, and bewilderment is set to remain over Sokol's departure from Berkshire Hathaway. Here's what we're watching…
1. Back to Work: Is this the month that jobs break out to the upside? That's what the ADP number seemed to say on Wednesday. After some nice gains in recent months, the consensus of analysts is looking for a gain of 195,000 in the Labor Department's March jobs report, due out at 8:30 a.m. ET. The news is poised to be the primary market driver as we head into the weekend. Better-than-expected numbers would be a likely catalyst to push the major indices to 2011 highs.
2. What's Next at Berkshire: 24 hours later ... and investors remain in shock over David Sokol's departure from Berkshire Hathaway, amidst a cloud of scrutiny surrounding his Lubrizol stock purchases before Buffett's shop announced a proposed takeover of the chemicals company. The former assumed heir-apparent to Buffett made waves as he presented his side of the story Thursday morning on CNBC, insisting he did nothing wrong. Eyebrows raised when reports surfaced that, while the SEC is considering a probe into potential insider trading by Sokol, the agency doesn't view the matter as urgent. Really, SEC? Haven't you had kind of a bad run? Anyway, the damage may be limited for now, but the big question is whether further ripples will tarnish Berkshire and the seemingly unimpeachable Mr. Buffett.
3. Google's New Page: Friday marks the end of an era, as ubiquitous web giant Google completes its C-suite shakeup. Come Monday, the company's co-founder Larry Page will take the helm as CEO, while incumbent Eric Schmidt steps into an executive chairman role. Already, we're seeing reports of Page trying to cut through what's become an overly bureaucratic and slow model at Google, hoping to recreate some of the secret sauce of the company's early-decade heyday. Investors surely hope he succeeds, as shares in the search giant have floundered in recent months.
4. The Brakes on Auto Sales: Major manufacturers are set to report March vehicle sales numbers Friday, with the dual headwinds of rising gas prices and economic ripples from the disaster in Japan. The consensus estimate calls for an overall annualized sales rate of 12.9 million vehicles, which would mark a pullback from February's 13.4 million number. Standouts could include General Motors, expected to report a 20 percent increase in March sales, and Ford, expected to post a 13 percent uptick.
5. From Maine to Manhattan: That's our focus, when it comes to real estate. Up in the Pine Tree State, hundreds of existing home sellers are joining together this week, knocking at least $10,000 off their list prices for a limited-time offer. The deal ends Sunday, so act fast if you're intrigued. Home builders do sales all the time, but a whole state in the bargain bin? Back in the Big Apple, a host of quarterly sales reports are out Friday morning, after the so-so numbers at the end of 2010.