Gift returns and oil prices in the New Year — five things to watch for in the week ahead

Hello friends and Fortune readers.

Happy New Year (in advance)! Despite a typically sleepy time of the year for business news, this past week held a number of surprises on the film, technology and cybersecurity fronts. Sony Pictures released “The Interview,” the comedy about an assassination plot against North Korea leader Kim Jung-un, in nearly 300 movie theaters and online. Also, in a blow to gamers on Thursday, Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Sony’s Playstation Network services suffered interruptions. A hacker group, “Lizard Squad,” claimed responsibility. In the week ahead, expect the business news to keep dripping in as 2014 comes to a close and the new year kicks off.

Here’s what you need to know for your week ahead.

1. Consumer confidence on the rise after the holidays?

Keep an eye out for the Conference Board to release the latest consumer confidence numbers Tuesday at 10 a.m. The announcement follows good news earlier this month about the public’s confidence in the job market. Last week, sentiment hit a pre-Recession high with 36% of Americans saying they felt they’d find a “good quality” job, according to a Gallup poll.

2. Weekly jobless claims report

Jobless claims will be published Wednesday at 8:30 a.m, providing a snapshot of the employment market. Last week’s numbers dipped more than expected ahead of Christmas, showing a strengthening economy. The Labor Department reported last week that jobless claims totaled 280,000, down 9,000 from the prior week.

3. Market closings

Be prepared for the markets to be closed on Jan. 1. Markets are also closed in other countries including Australia, Germany, Tokyo and London. On Jan. 2, the Shanghai stock exchange will also be shuttered. Investors will be looking at how the markets end the year: with a bang or a whimper? So far, for the year, the Dow Jones is up 11%; the S&P is up 15%; and Nasdaq is up 16%.

4. Oil price year-in-review

Oil and gasoline prices have fallen sharply this year. Traders will be looking at these final few days of 2014 to quantify what will certainly be a big year-over-year decline. In the past six months, the cost of a barrel of crude has tumbled nearly 50%, sending shockwaves through the energy industry. Crude closed at $55.14 a barrel on Friday, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, gasoline prices have also tumbled. The average nationwide price for a gallon of gas is currently at $2.32, according to AAA. All eyes will be on whether the prices rebound in the coming weeks, or continue to drop.

5. ‘Tis the season for gift returns

With Christmas come and gone, that means one thing: gift return season. In fact, UPS expects to see four million returns as the holidays end. That coincides with “UPS National Returns Day” on Jan. 6 where the United Parcel Service expects as many as 800,000 returns in a single day, according to Fortune.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

CryptocurrencyLeadershipInvestingClimate ChangeMost Powerful Women