Economic data this week could show whether Friday’s unexpectedly strong jobs report was an aberration or a sign of a strengthening economy.
In November, consumer credit surged an unexpected $20.37 billion, the biggest gain in a decade. Analysts predict that things will have come back down to earth when numbers come out for December; they project a $7 billion increase. Even so, it’s all part of an upward trend in recent months, as consumers feel more confident borrowing and banks feels more comfortable lending to them.
As more jobs have been created and the unemployment rate has edged downward, new claims for unemployment insurance have generally declined. But the labor market still has a long way to recover. Last week, the Labor Department said jobless claims for the week that ended Jan. 28 fell to 367,000, a 12,000 decrease from the previous week and the lowest level in nearly four years. That number is expected to rise slightly, to 370,000. But overall, the labor market is in better shape than it was a few months ago.
Wholesale inventories are a key retail indicator because distributors boost their stockpiles if they expect retailers to order more goods. Wholesale inventories are projected to have increased by 0.5 percent in December, a significant improvement from a 0.1 percent increase in November. That said, although retail sales made gains in December, retailers didn’t get as much of a holiday boost as some had predicted. So December’s inventories might not be completely in step with the health of the retail industry.
Analysts expect the trade deficit for December to reach $48.5 billion, up from $47.8 billion in the previous month. That would mark a six-month high for the trade gap. Growth in the trade deficit is likely due to a drop in exports and an increase in oil imports.
Preliminary estimates have consumer confidence slipping to 74 points in February — down one point from January — when the University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment is released.
— Suzy Khimm
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