Key economic events for the week of March 12

March 11, 2012

In the wake of Friday’s overwhelmingly positive jobs report, investors and analysts will likely be paying close attention to this week’s economic indicators to see whether there are other signs that the economy is headed toward a real recovery.

Tuesday

The National Federation of Independent Business will be releasing its index of small business optimism, which analysts expect to rise to 94.3 in February over 93.9 in the previous month. The NFIB Index has been on the rise since June 2011, and if analysts are correct, it is set to reach the highest level since the recession began. This is particularly significant because small businesses have had a more difficult time than larger firms in getting loans, even as the economy has begun to pick up.

Retail sales for February are expected to rise to 1 percent, compared with 0.4 percent in the previous month. But a significant part of that increase could be linked to the rising cost of gas: Without auto and gas sales, retail sales are expected to rise by only 0.5 percent. If the cost of gas continues to rise, that could ultimately pinch pocketbooks and dampen consumer consumption in other sectors.

Later in the day, the numbers for January’s business inventories will be out: They’re expected to increase 0.6 percent in January, after a disappointing December in which they increased by 0.4 percent — far below expectations. Rising inventories would indicate that firms believe consumer demand is coming back, and February’s retail sales numbers will confirm whether expectations were fulfilled.

Thursday

There will be two key indicators for the manufacturing sector today. First, the New York Fed’s Empire State Manufacturing Survey for March will be out, and analysts expect it to decrease to 17.40. That’s down from 19.53 in February, but still relatively high compared to the worst part of the recession.

Soon after, the Philadelphia Fed releases its business outlook for manufacturers in its own district, which is expected to rise slightly to 11.0 in March, compared with 10.2 previously. That’s far below the high of about 40 points in 2010, when a manufacturing renaissance was helping to lead the recovery.

Friday

Finally, the Consumer Price Index is expected to rise 0.4 percent in February, compared with 0.2 percent in January. But again, the rising cost of gas has been driving much of that increase; minus food and energy prices, the CPI is expected to rise 0.2 percent, the same increase as last month.

Suzy Khimm

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