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The week ahead in business: Ben Bernanke will take center stage

Monday, February 22, 2010; A11

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is slated to be in the spotlight this week, amid a steady hum of economic data.

TUESDAY

Housing uptick flattened out

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Schiller Home Price Index is projected to show that home price increases flattened out in December, consistent with other data suggesting the uptick in housing prices from the fall has not continued this winter. Analysts expect the composite index of home prices in 20 major cities to be up 0.05 percent, compared with a 0.24 percent rise in November.

WEDNESDAY

It's showtime for the chairman

Bernanke begins two days of his annual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony on monetary policy before Congress. He is scheduled to give his latest view on the economy -- look for a forecast of continued modest growth -- and he will probably explain the Fed's strategy for exiting certain special programs aimed at supporting the economy, which have included a near-zero target interest rate and a $2.2 trillion balance sheet.

One open question is whether there will be any surprises from Bernanke. For example, might he use this prominent platform, and the job security that comes with his new four-year term, to do a bit of scolding of Congress about its apparent inability to craft a pathway to more sustainable budget deficits? If so, he would be expressing prominently the views of many Fed insiders, which were articulated by Kansas City Fed President Tom Hoenig in a speech last week worrying that budget deficits could make it harder for the Fed to guide the economy.

Also Wednesday, the Commerce Department is scheduled to report on new home sales. Analysts estimate that the number rose 2.3 percent in January, after a steep decline in December.

THURSDAY

The skinny on durable goods

Durable goods orders are projected to have risen a solid 1.5 percent.

FRIDAY

GDP data change is only incremental

The first revision to fourth-quarter gross domestic product data could indicate little change in the 5.7 percent growth rate that was first reported: Forecasters expect a revised 5.6 percent.

-- Neil Irwin

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