Economic events for the week beginning Oct. 18

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By Neil Irwin Washington Post Staff Writer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2010; 5:28 PM

Neil's Must-Reads

Ben Bernanke's speech got all the attention at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's monetary policy conference Friday, but some of the papers presented are useful reading for anyone who wants to understand the state of post-crisis thinking on monetary policy. Columbia economist Richard Clarida's overview of what the last decade of monetary policy teaches is a good starting place. Find links at washingtonpost.com/mustreads.

After a busy period of economic news last week, this one offers a bit of a breather, a chance to digest where U.S. growth prospects stand for the coming months.

Monday

Industrial production data for September are scheduled to be released Monday. They are expected to show a continuing slow, steady rise in output at the nation's manufacturers, utilities and mines. These companies are no longer benefiting from the rebuilding in business inventories that drove growth earlier in the year, but appear to be expanding nonetheless.

Forecasters expect an 0.2 percent rise in industrial production in September, the same pace of growth as in August. The amount of manufacturing capacity being used is expected to have edged up to 74.8 percent from 74.7 percent - not much progress given that the industrial sector would be operating at about 80 percent of capacity in a healthy economy.

Tuesday

This will be the big day for housing data, with the Census Bureau releasing September numbers on housing starts and permits issued. Look for the number of starts to fall 3 percent to a 580,000 annual rate, following a solid 10.5 percent gain in August. Analysts expect the number of housing permits issued, a more forward-looking indicator, to edge up 0.7 percent.

To some degree, these modest numbers reflect the continued up-and-down behavior of the housing market adjusting to the removal of a homebuyer tax credit, but there is a broader lesson. As the impact of those distortions fades, housing may not be collapsing like it was from 2006 to 2009, but it isn't emerging as a force for recovery, either.

Wednesday

The Federal Reserve releases its "beige book," a compilation of anecdotal information from businesses around the country prepared in advance of each Fed policymaking meeting. The document has greater import than usual this time, as the central bank faces a crucial decision at its Nov. 2-3 meeting: Whether, and how, to undertake new measures to try to boost economic activity and get inflation to edge up.

Thursday

Weekly unemployment insurance claims had been moving down in recent weeks until last week's surprise bump-up to 462,000 new claims. Forecasters expect the number to dip again this week, to 455,000, but it is worth watching for a real-time (if volatile) measure of the health of the labor market.


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