By Alexandra Twin, CNNMoney.com senior writer
Last Updated: September 6, 2009: 6:04 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Sunburned and barbecued out, Wall Streeters returning to work next week face the first big challenge to the six-month-old rally.
Even after a down week on Wall Street, punctuated by a mixed August jobs report, the S&P 500 remains 50% above the 12-year lows hit in March.
Stocks churned in a narrow range for most of August, ending the month higher. But with fewer people around and trading in August, the market rally didn't really face much of a challenge. That won't be the case in September.
"The fall campaigns begin next week for Wall Street, Congress and students," said Scott Armiger, portfolio manager at Christiana Bank & Trust Company. "Everyone has to conduct business, pass laws or study."
Armiger said he doesn't put much stock in the markets' seesawing over the last two weeks. Trading volume has been low, as is typical of late summer when many market pros on the sidelines.
"The week ahead will tell us more about where we stand," he said.
The week is fairly light on economic reports, with readings on the trade gap, weekly jobless claims and consumer sentiment being the standouts. Congress reconvenes on Tuesday. Wednesday night, President Obama will speak to the nation and the Congress on health care reform.
"We've had some artificial demand created by all the stimulus, but when you take that away, will there be enough fuel for real demand to take its place?" said Dave Hinnenkamp, CEO at KDV Wealth Management. "The market is looking at the data and trying to figure it out."
Hinnenkamp said that stocks are likely to seesaw or even slide five or ten percent over the next month or two, until the next batch of earnings come out and the initial readings on third-quarter GDP growth are released.
0:00 /2:04Atlanta Fed sees turnaround
Month of meltdowns: September is typically a tough one for Wall Street, with the Dow industrials, Nasdaq composite and S&P 500 all posting their biggest percentage losses for the year, according to the Stock Trader's Almanac.
The month tends to be weak as the "back to work" mentality also tends to bring in a certain "cleaning house" momentum.
This particular September also ushers in a series of dubious anniversaries for Wall Street.
This Monday, Labor Day, is the one-year anniversary of the government's takeover of mortgage lenders Fannie Mae (FNM, Fortune 500) and Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500).
On Sept. 8, 2008, the Bush Administration put the companies under a government conservatorship and replaced both chief executives. The two companies owned or backed half a billion in mortgage debt and had lost billions in the housing collapse.
One week later brings the anniversary of what many consider to be the accelerant that pushed the recession into full-blown crisis: the collapse of Lehman Bros. and 11th-hour buyout of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500). On Sept. 15, 2008, the Dow slumped 504 points, as financial shares tumbled, credit seized up and investors went into panic mode.
Stocks lurched dramatically all week, but managed to end just modestly lower that Friday after a series of government interventions. They included the Federal Reserve jumping in to save AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) from bankruptcy and the establishment of an early version of the TARP bank bailout plan.
One volatile year later, the Dow is still down 13.5%, the S&P is down 15% and the Nasdaq composite is down just over 7%.
On the docket
Monday: All financial markets are closed for Labor Day.
Tuesday: The July Consumer Credit report from the Federal Reserve is due in the afternoon. Credit is expected to have fallen for the sixth consecutive month as the recession continues to nip borrowing. Credit likely dipped a seasonally adjusted $4 billion after falling $10.3 billion in June, according to a Briefing.com survey of economists.
Wednesday: The weekly crude oil inventories report is due in the morning, from the Energy Information Administration.
In the afternoon, the Federal Reserve releases its periodic "beige book" survey of the economy, which tracks 12 districts.
The stream of reports showing improvements in housing and manufacturing and continued weakness in the labor market have given investors a picture of the economy in the first half of the third quarter. But the beige book will put that in a broader perspective.
Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) is expected to introduce iPod Nano and iPod Touch models that include digital cameras, as well as other new updates, at its media event Wednesday. Apple watchers are also eager to see if CEO Steve Jobs will make an appearance now that he is back to work after a six-month medical leave.
Thursday: The July trade gap from the Commerce Department is expected to hold steady at $27 billion. Last month, imports rose for the first time in nearly a year due to higher oil prices, but that was partially offset by stronger global demand for U.S. goods and services. Investors will be looking to see if the trend continues this month.
Also in the morning, the Labor Department releases the weekly jobless claims report. Approximately 556,000 Americans are expected to have filed new claims for unemployment in the previous week versus 570,000 in the previous week.
Continuing claims, a measure of those receiving benefits for a week or more, are expected to continue to rise from the 6.234 million level hit last week.
RealtyTrac releases its monthly report on foreclosures.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner speaks before the Congressional Oversight Panel.
Friday: The initial reading on consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan is due shortly after the start of trading. The index is expected to have risen to 67.3 in September from 65.7 in August.
The Commerce Department is expected to report a drop in wholesale inventories for the 11th straight month, when the July report is released in the morning. Stocks at U.S. wholesalers likely fell 1% in July, according to forecasts, after falling 1.7% in June.
August import and export prices are also due in the morning, while the August Treasury budget is due in the afternoon