Week Ahead: Third-Quarter Earnings and FOMC Minutes

Third-quarter earnings season kicks off next week with the traditional first report coming from Alcoa (NYSE:AA) on Tuesday.

A handful of bellwether companies will also report next week, including Pepsico (NYSE:PEP) on Wednesday, and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) on Thursday.

Economic data next week will center on the moods and habits of the consumer, a vital gauge of where the economy is headed given that consumer spending represents roughly 70% of the U.S. economy.

Laden with debt and fearful for their jobs, the U.S. consumer has been thrifty recently, which has contributed significantly to the drag on the economic recovery. Investors will be looking for something positive from the release Tuesday of the IBD/TIPP Economic Optimism Index for October, and the preliminary Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index due Friday.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve Board’s two-day September meeting will be released Tuesday and no surprises are likely. The Fed has already approved a $400 billion shift in its portfolio from short-term to long-term securities in an effort to reduce long-term interest rates on loans such as mortgages.

Details may emerge on the rift between three FOMC members who dissented from the portfolio shift and the majority of the 10-member board led by Chairman Ben Bernanke who support further Fed interventions.

The so-called Volcker Rule, part of last year’s sprawling Wall Street reform legislation, will be unveiled on Tuesday. The banking community is certain to be paying attention as the rule could curb profits from banks’ proprietary trading units.

Reports on September retail and food sales are due Friday. Those numbers will also be impacted by the dour mood of the consumer.

The September Import and Export Price Indexes will be released Friday and are expected to rise slightly due to a small bump in oil prices during September. A report on business inventories for August is also due Friday.

Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam, convicted in one of the largest insider trading schemes ever, will be sentenced on Thursday.