Week Ahead: Jobs Report and a Bernanke Speech

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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will make a high-profile appearance before Congress next week, during which he will undoubtedly defend the Fed’s latest fiscal intervention.

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But, in terms of significance, the testimony will take a back seat to the government jobs report due on Friday.

Bernanke, in testimony scheduled for Tuesday, will no doubt make a case for Operation Twist, the much-maligned plan in which the Fed will shift $400 billion of its portfolio from short to long-term securities in an effort to lower long-term interest rates and perhaps give a jolt to stagnant credit markets, especially mortgage loans.

Most investors will likely ignore Bernanke’s defense of Operation Twist and instead listen for any change in Bernanke’s tone with regard either to the economic forecast going forward or the   Fed’s plans for additional actions.

The big data will come later in the week when the Labor Department releases its September jobs report. The numbers are likely to get a boost from Verizon (VZ) workers who are back on the job after a strike. But economists believe the unemployment rate will likely remain unchanged at 9.1%.

The data could be critical in terms of moving consumer sentiment one direction or another. The dismal job market has been blamed for pushing consumer sentiment to its lowest levels since the height of the financial crisis.

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On Friday, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's final September reading of the overall index on consumer sentiment stood at 59.4, up slightly from 57.8 earlier this month but still well below levels in the spring when the recovery seemed to be gaining traction.

Obviously, consumer sentiment has a direct impact on consumer spending, which makes up 70% of the U.S. economy.

Manufacturing data is due Monday with the release of the Institute of Supply Management's manufacturing index. In related data, a report on factory orders is due on Tuesday.

Also due Monday are September car sales.

On Wednesday, housing will come into focus with a report due from the Mortgage Bankers Association on mortgage applications. It’s too early for Operation Twist to have had any effect, but the mortgage industry has been hard hit by more stringent lending standards and buyers nervous about making the largest investment of their lives in a precarious economy.

Also Wednesday is the ADP non-farm jobs report, which should give a preview of what’s coming on Friday. Sometimes it’s prescient, sometimes it isn’t.