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Wall St. eyes Greece and Fed; Main St lackadaisical

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June 28
6:58 PM 2015

Anxiety about Greece may keep Wall Street on edge early in the week, as the country moves toward what was once thought unthinkable: a default and a full exit from the euro zone.

While European markets are braced for a wave of contagion from Greece on Monday, as a result of a possible "Grexit" that most had still assumed was unlikely as late as Friday afternoon, the effect on U.S. markets is expected to be bumpy, but not as dramatic as in Europe.

Athens is due to miss a 1.6 billion euro ($1.8 billion) repayment to the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday. With its creditors unwilling to extend the country's bailout, Greece's banks will not open on Monday and capital controls are to be imposed.

The dollar gained against the euro in early Asian trading, and U.S. government bonds should see a safe-haven bid from investors wary of European equities.

The U.S. equity market will probably see some volatility on Monday, but safeguards against contagion introduced since 2010, when the possibility of a Greek default first shook markets, has many expecting only modest losses in U.S. stocks.

"Beyond volatility tomorrow, perhaps, there shouldn't be much effect," said Ken Fisher, founder and CEO of Fisher Investments. "Greece bank closure should be pretty fully discounted. That's what markets do for a living."

Wall Street's reaction ahead of previous deadlines in Greek negotiations has been quiet compared with European financial markets. However, some U.S. investors expect more than just a rough session of trading.

"We're coming up on zero hour for this crisis and it may well be that a number of investors will prefer to wait on the sidelines for the dust to settle," said Alan Gayle, senior investment strategist at RidgeWorth Investments in Atlanta, which has $50 billion in assets under management.

MAIN STREET SHRUGS

One ray of hope for investors could be an unusually long streak of ambivalence on Main Street.

Seen by some as a contrarian indicator of future stock market performance, a weekly poll of individual investors showed positive sentiment for stocks remained below average for the 16th straight week despite a solid uptick in optimism.

The last time bullishness in the American Association of Individual Investors' sentiment survey remained below average for so long was in August 2012.

Many professional investors view enthusiasm among do-it-yourselfers as a warning that the market may be overheating. Conversely, widespread caution is often taken as evidence that stock prices are well-grounded and not forming a bubble.

"The market climbs a wall of worry and if there's some bearishness out there it means there's potential buying power on the sidelines that could come back into the market," said David Joy, chief market strategist at Ameriprise Financial in Boston, where he helps oversee $815 billion in assets under management.

Indeed, individual investors have pulled $56 billion from U.S. equity funds in the past 26 weeks, according to EPFR Global, which tracks fund-flow data.

While Greece's financial instability and the possibility that the U.S. Federal Reserve could soon raise interest rates remain risks, Gayle, Joy and others said they still expect U.S. stocks to go higher over the medium term.

The strengthening economy suggests the Fed could raise interest rates this year even as inflation remains well below the U.S. central bank's 2 percent target. Many economists expect a rate hike in September.

The S&P 500 .SPX and tech-heavy Nasdaq .IXIC hit all-time highs in recent months, with markets bouncing back and forth in a limited range since around February as many investors fixate on the Fed.

Several data points next week will give fresh reads on the health of U.S. consumers in June as the Fed weighs when to increase rates.

On Thursday, Labor Department data is expected to show nonfarm payrolls increased by 232,000 in June, with the unemployment rate edging down to 5.4 percent from 5.5 percent in May. Consumer confidence is due on Tuesday and domestic car sales are due on Wednesday.

"The production side of the economy is doing OK," said Joy. "It's the consumer sector that's most important for us right now. And of course, Greece."

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