NEW YORK - After last week’s dreary economic news, Wall Street is more certain than ever that it is facing a recession. But it’s also seeing signs that corporate America is enduring the difficulties better than it anticipated.
With the Federal Reserve’s interest rate meeting this week and second-quarter earnings still pouring in, investors are trying to decide whether the stock market is at a turning point, or just another plateau before the next big selloff.
The stock market was volatile last week. Investors were relieved to see some decent earnings, as well as moves by Ambac Financial Group and Merrill Lynch & Co. to rid their balance sheets of risky debt. But they were disappointed about sluggish gross domestic product growth in the second quarter, and a rise in unemployment to 5.7 percent last month.
The Dow Jones industrial average, after logging several triple-digit, back-and-forth swings, finished the week down 0.39 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index ended up 0.21 percent, and the Nasdaq composite index finished up 0.02 percent.
The Fed meets Tuesday, and policymakers are expected to keep interest rates steady at 2 percent, given the recent underwhelming readings on the economy.
Inflation rose sharply for businesses in June as they paid higher prices for commodities, but it appears to have eased in July as the price of oil retreated in the second half of the month.
“A glimmer of hope is that we’ve moderated some of those input costs,” said Michael Strauss, chief economist at Commonfund. “There’s a difference between $147-a-barrel crude oil and $127-a-barrel crude oil.”
Still, few market participants expect the Fed to get too complacent about inflation; there is no guarantee that commodities costs will keep going down, particularly if the economy stabilizes.