This week in business

Staff writer Alan M. Wolf, Bloomberg NewsApril 6, 2009 

First-quarter earnings due out

This week brings a looming threat to the stock market's four-week buying spree: The start of the first-quarter earnings season.

Dow component and aluminum producer Alcoa kicks off the action Tuesday. Discount retailer Family Dollar reports Wednesday.

Expectations for earnings are already low, but hints that conditions are deteriorating could easily kill the recent rally. Stocks are up 25 percent from a low last month.

On the flip side, if quarterly earnings come in as expected or even a bit better, it would likely add further fuel to the Wall Street frenzy.

And on Friday, investors take a breather: U.S. stock and bond markets are closed for Good Friday.

Retailers report on March sales

Households are tightening their belts as layoff fears mount. But consumers still need stuff. On Thursday, a report on retailers' March sales will show how much.

Economists expect sales at stores open at least a year, a key way to measure retailers' health, were flat or declined 1 percent. Shoppers are also expected to have continued avoiding higher-priced luxury stores in favor of discounters, including Wal-Mart.

U.S. trade gap hits six-year low

The U.S. trade gap in February probably held at a six-year low, as the worst global slump since World War II caused exports and imports to collapse, economists said ahead of a government report Thursday.

Other figures on the same day may show the cost of imported goods increased in March for the first time in eight months, as fuel prices rebounded.

Flagging sales overseas will keep depressing U.S. growth, as manufacturers, already in a yearlong free fall, cut payrolls, output and inventories.

Free tax advice available

Tax procrastinators, take heart. On Tuesday, experts from H&R Block will offer 24 hours of free advice. Call 877-472-5625 or e-mail tax talk@hrblock.com.

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