Economic Data Plate Full in Shortened Trading Week

Andrew Klips |

NYSE Wall StreetAs earnings season begins to wind down, investors will be looking towards economic data to drive markets this week.  Wall Street was shuttered on Monday in observance of Presidents’ Day and information on the economic slate will be minimal on Tuesday, but Wednesday and Thursday will more than quench the thirst of number-crunching economists.

Here’s what to look for in information with “market moving” potential:

Tuesday

Housing Market Index for February - The National Association of Home Builders’ index of provides a barometer of how respondents feel about the state of the overall economy and the housing market.  Readings over 50 signal that the majority of respondents feel the situation is “good,” rather than “bad.”  In June 2011, the index was at 25.  Last month it was at 47 and economists expect a climb to 48 in February.

Wednesday

Housing Starts for January – The Commerce Department said that housing starts climbed 12.1% in December to a 954,000 annual rate, after contracting 4.3% in November.  At the end of December the pace was 37% ahead of the year prior rate.  Economists are expecting a decline in January to about a 915,000 annual rate.

Producer Price Index for January – The Labor Department said that the PPI, which measures manufacturers and wholesalers pay for finished goods, declined by 0.2% in December, the third straight month of dropping prices.  The “core” PPI, which eliminates the volatile food and energy sectors, increased by 0.1%.  Economists are predicting a 0.3% rise overall and a 0.2% rise in the core reading.

Federal Open Market Committee Minutes – The FOMC releases it minutes from previous meetings at a three-week lag.  The past few months have been more of the same, as unemployment remains high and the nation’s economy continues to recover.  Still, economists and analysts listen closely to each word from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hunting for any signs of policy changes that could be coming.  Last month, the market reacted unfavorably towards the possibility that monetary easing policies might end sooner, rather than later, although the knee-jerk reaction was short-lived.

Thursday

Consumer Price Index for January – The Labor Department’s CPI, a leading measure of inflation, was flat in December after a 0.3% increase in November.  “Core” CPI, which excludes food and energy, inched up 0.1%.  For all of 2012, the CPI rose just 1.7%, marking its third slowest annual rise in the past decade.  Economists are calling for 0.1% and 0.2% increases in January for overall and core prices, respectively.

Initial Jobless Claims for Week Ended Feb. 16 – The Labor Department said that first time filings for jobless benefits decreased by 27,000 to 341,000 for the week ended February 9, although many placed an asterisk next to the figure wondering if the snow storm that pounded the Northeast skewed the figures as many people who would have, didn’t file.  Economists are expecting the number to jump back up this week, predicting about 358,000 new claims.

Existing Home Sales for January – The National Association of Realtors said that sales of previously-owned homes slipped by 1% in December from November to a seasonally adjusted 4.94 million rate, but still ahead of 2011’s pace by 12.8%.  Median prices were up 11.5% year-over-year to $180,800 for December as dwindling inventories are helping boost prices.  For January, economists are anticipating a slight drop to a 4.91 million annual rate.

Philadelphia Fed Survey for February – The Philadelphia Federal Reserve said last month the general business conditions in the mid-Atlantic region unexpectedly contracted to a -5.8 reading from a 4.6 in December.  The diffusion index is followed as a gauge of manufacturing trends with readings above zero indicating expansion and below zero indicating contraction.  Economists are expecting the index to climb back into expansion territory for February with a 1.1 consensus.

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