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Investors brace for a jam-packed September

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Investors may wind up more concerned about who replaces Bernanke when his term ends in January. President Barack Obama could nominate a successor as early as September. The current front-runners are Janet Yellen, the Fed’s vice chairwoman, and Larry Summers, the former Treasury Secretary.

Stovall says that Summers seems like more of a political operator than Yellen. His concern is that a Fed under Summers would be less impartial, undermining an institution that’s supposed to be independent of political winds.

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"My worry is that Larry Summers gets it," Stovall says. "I really think his nomination would reduce investor confidence in the Fed."

German election. Sept. 22

Remember the European debt crisis? From late 2009 until last year, worries about Greece, Spain or another of the continent’s troubled economies would flare up and send the U.S. stock market into a tailspin.

This year has been different. France and Germany helped tug the eurozone out of an 18-month recession this spring. A closely watched survey recently showed business activity rising for four months straight.

Germany’s elections on Sept. 22 will likely push Europe back into the spotlight, if only because of what happens afterward. Analysts expect that the new German government will take up long-awaited reforms for the eurozone, the 17 countries that use the euro currency. That could easily lead to some public spats, especially if Greece’s struggles to pay its debts again. Last week, Germany’s finance minister said the country will need a third bailout package, a source of resentment for many Germans.

"Europe has been off the table as a looming risk, and that’s likely to change once the election is over," says Martin LeClerc, chief investment officer at Barrack Yard Advisors in Bryn Mawr, Pa. "Europe is going to have to tackle some big issues."

Merkel’s party leads in polls, and if she gets a third term in office with a stronger government, Pride of Glenmede thinks it could embolden her to drive the eurozone countries closer together. "Ultimately, that’s a good thing for Europe and also a good thing for the market," he says.

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The budget. Sept. 30

If investors get through the Fed meeting and events in Europe unscathed, there’s still one obstacle at the end of the month. And it could prove to be the biggest one, Pride says.

When members of Congress return from their summer break on Sept. 9, questions about Syria may top of their concerns. But they will also face two deadlines tied to the federal budget.

To keep the government running, Congress needs to pass a short-term spending bill before the fiscal year starts Oct. 1. And then there’s the government’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned that, unless it’s raised soon, the government would lose the ability to pay all its bills by the middle of October.

The Obama administration has said it won’t negotiate spending cuts with Congressional Republicans in exchange for lifting the debt limit.

John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, said Aug. 26 that he plans to use the debt ceiling to demand deeper spending cuts. He promised "a whale of a fight."

The recent tough talk has reminded many in the financial markets of the debt-ceiling fight in August, 2011. That fight led the rating agency Standard & Poor’s to strip the U.S. of its top, AAA credit rating. Stock markets slumped worldwide and the S&P 500 index plunged 6 percent in one day, its steepest daily drop since the 2008 financial crisis.

Among investors, there’s a widely shared view that any budget squabbles could get rough but not as bad as back then.

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