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Wall Street focus: Bank earnings, retail sales and the Fed

After several weeks of relative calm to kick off the summer, the markets this past week were awakened by a fresh scare out of Europe and some comments from the Fed. Trading volume and some volatility returned. And that was likely just a preview of what investors can expect in the coming week.

Many of the biggest banks on Wall Street will turn in quarterly results that will provide some insight into how the slowly improving economy is translating to companies’ bottom lines. Among the big names on the earnings calendar this week: Citigroup (C), Goldman Sachs (GS), Morgan Stanley (MS), JPMorgan (JPM), Bank of America (BAC).

Yahoo Finance’s Jeff Macke says the light volume we’ve seen will show up in the banks’ results. “What we’re going to see is that trading volumes have plummeted,” says Macke. “The trading desks are a nightmare … I want to see how the stocks react. That’s going to be the next big thing that Wall Street obsesses over next week. Whether or not it fundamentally matters or should be a surprise is almost beside the point. It’s going to be the reaction.”

Yellen goes to the hill

The other thing Wall Street loves to obsess over is the Fed and parsing every word every governor says about the state of the job market, the broader economy, inflation and any potential hint about when interest rates may begin to rise. Fed Chair Janet Yellen heads to Capitol Hill for two days of testimony before Congress Tuesday and Wednesday, and Wall Street will be watching and listening closely, especially after the minutes from the latest policy meeting sent stocks lower in the middle of this past week.

Yahoo Finance Senior Columnist Michael Santoli says Yellen’s goal – as always – will be not to make any news. The focus for the markets will be a shift in the Fed’s focus, according to Santoli. “Right now, the focus has switched from the risks of the labor market being too sluggish and the downside risks to the economy in the U.S. to the risks of overconfident financial markets,” he says. “The Fed minutes have said that, yes, they’re a little bit concerned that investors are a little overconfident about chasing after yield and potentially a little too secure in their outlook for the economic horizon, which is interesting because the Fed engineered both those things.” But Santoli does not believe all that adds up to a change in Fed policy just yet.

Strange behavior

Another constant concern for the Fed is the consumer. This coming week will reveal how freely consumers have been spending, and on what, with a report on retail sales for June expected Tuesday morning. Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman says consumers have shown some strange behavior recently. Namely, spending on big-ticket items, such as cars, but passing up everyday purchases.

Newman says that, while car sales have been strong, “We keep hearing one retailer after another saying sales just aren’t measuring up. We had the president of Wal-Mart North America saying: If jobs are coming back, it’s not showing up in our sales. We’ve got a lot of other retail CEOs saying: Why aren’t they spending money?”

So Tuesday will reveal where consumers have and have not been spending their money, and what that says about the state of the economy.