A heavy load of economic data in the coming week will probably confirm what
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said last Tuesday: The recovery is crawling ahead at a snail's pace.
"The reports should reinforce the dominant view that the economy is improving, albeit at a mild pace," said John Lonski, an economist at Moody's Investors Service. "We would like to see a faster rate of economic growth and more spending on U.S. output to establish a definitive bottom for profitability."
On Tuesday, the Census Bureau will release April
retail sales data, which are considered the key numbers of the week. Sales are forecast to rise 0.4%, excluding autos, after a 0.3% gain in March. "If the retail sales report shows improvement, it will not be such a dramatic improvement that we now have a green light to buy equities with considerable exposure to consumer spending," said Lonski.
After a strong economic snapback in the first quarter --
gross domestic product grew at a 5.8% clip over that period -- the pace of the recovery has moderated somewhat. Last week the Fed left the
fed funds rate unchanged at 1.75%, its lowest level in 40 years, saying strengthening of final demand over coming quarters is still uncertain. Economists expect more mild GDP growth of 3.4% for the rest of the year.
"Most people knew that there were some seasonal issues helping the first quarter," said Joel Naroff, head of Naroff Economic Advisors, an economic consulting firm. "So they expected some pullback in the second quarter. But if you take the two quarters together, it has been a good first half of the year."
So far this year, low inflation has afforded the Fed the ability to keep interest rates down. The Labor Department's
consumer price index, which is predicted to rise 0.2% in April, will confirm that trend Wednesday, economists believe. "From the standpoint of the Federal Reserve, people will focus on the CPI data," said Naroff.
There will be other data to consider. Also on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will report on
industrial production in April. The reading is expected to show continued expansion in the sector, although at a slightly slower level than in March. That industrial production has begun to tick up, however, is considered an important indicator of the economic recovery.
On Thursday, the Census Bureau will offer data on
housing starts, which are predicted to fall just slightly from March. Though there is talk of a bubble in the housing market, recent data have been strong.
And on Friday, the University of Michigan will come out with its
consumer sentiment index for May, which is likely to show a flat reading from April. After rising during the early part of this year, confidence has been drooping lately -- the result of geopolitical concerns and an uptick in the unemployment rate.
Most experts think next week's data will have limited impact on the market.
"The market will keep doing what it has been doing, which is -- except for the 300-point
rally -- drifting without direction on low volume," said Jim Volk, head of institutional trading at D.A. Davidson.
rallying on Cisco's earnings news Wednesday, stocks retreated on Thursday and Friday. "There is no catalyst to get this market going," said Volk. "The market is fairly valued, maybe even overvalued. Until we see if earnings justify these multiples, stocks will continue to back and fill."
Among companies reporting earnings next week are