The January unemployment rate, set to be released next Friday, is expected to inch up to 9.5% from 9.4% in December, according to economists.

Auto makers and retailers will report their U.S. sales results for January next week, with auto makers broadly expected to report another month of improved sales. Results from retailers, however, could be affected by winter storms that slammed the Northeast.

The earnings parade continues next week, with results due from a handful of transport and Chinese Internet-focused companies, as well as Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM), MasterCard Inc. (NYSE:MA), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and Health Net Inc. (NYSE:HNT).

A handful of key economic reports are due next week, including January's unemployment rate and hourly earnings figures from the U.S. Department of Labor. Economists expect the U.S. employment report, scheduled for release Friday, to show nonfarm payrolls increased by 140,000 new jobs in January, after a gain of 103,000 in December.

Auto makers are forecast to report higher U.S. sales for another month in January, as the industry continues to rebound after suffering mightily during the financial crisis. Car-shopping Web site Edmunds.com predicted all six of the major auto makers would report double-digit percentage increases in sales from a year ago, with Chrysler Group LLC, Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. projected to post the largest increases.  

U.S. retailers next week will report sales results for January, with severe weather in the heavily populated Northeast likely to hurt results for the second consecutive month. For the new year, retailers are facing a continued jump in cotton prices, as well as higher labor and transportation costs. Those woes come as the economic recovery remains sluggish.

Earnings results from the transport sector continue to roll on, with reports due from United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE:UPS), C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. (NASDAQ:CHRW), Con-Way Inc. (NYSE:CNW) and YRC Worldwide Inc. (NASDAQ:YRCW). Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected improved top- and bottom-line results from UPS and C.H. Robinson and Con-Way, while YRC's loss is expected to narrow sharply, although revenue is also projected to fall.

Meanwhile, Chinese Internet-focused Baidu Inc. (NASDAQ:BIDU), Changyou.com Ltd. (NASDAQ:CYOU) and Sohu.com Inc. (NASDAQ:SOHU) are all scheduled to report their latest results on Monday. Wall Street estimated the trio would report much higher results from a year ago.

Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he will dissolve parliament when it reconvenes Tuesday after passing of the Finance Bill and announce a date for the general election. The opposition parties and political commentators have already indicated that the most likely date for the general election will be Feb. 25, giving the political parties a four-week campaign.

European leaders will discuss measures to counter the economic crisis with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Union Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn when they meet in Brussels on Friday. The commission, along with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, has been closely involved with measures to combat the euro zone's sovereign-debt crisis.

France will introduce new rules on net short positions of stocks from Feb. 1 to comply with future European regulations on short selling, the country's market regulator said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R, Okla.) said he is teaming up with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R, Mich.) to target the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse gases.

Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. (NASDAQ:NDAQ) plans to launch its U.K. electricity futures contracts Monday with full clearing as part of its U.K. power market offering--a move that will allow smaller players into the market and which could boost liquidity and transparency in the     U.K. power market.