Stendig

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. -- Let's peek at the calendar.

The March producer price indices to be released Thursday.

The market's looking for a half-point jump from the finished goods index and a one-tenth increase in its core (excluding food and energy) counterpart.

Will the core finished goods index ever begin to show the acceleration that the core intermediate and crude goods indices have been showing for some time now?

That's the question we want answered.

It isn't clear that the core finished goods index has troughed. It was rising at a 0.8% year-on-year rate in January, which marked its slowest pace of increase since June 1998, and then it accelerated to 1.0% in February.

A one-tenth (its average monthly increase over the past year) March print would work against the notion that it's bottomed; a second-straight three-tenths print would work for it.

The March retail sales report to be released Thursday.

The market's looking for a two-tenths overall increase and a six-tenths core (excluding autos) gain.

Odds seem to favor a bigger core increase. And yet in a weird kinda way, it doesn't matter what the damn thing prints.

The pace of personal consumption's been

accelerating

for six straight quarters. Folks can claim that the spending binge has ended every time we get a weak consumption number all they want -- and if the retail numbers print small on Thursday, they will; and when the second-quarter figure prints weak in July, they will -- but such calls will prove silly until employment growth decelerates meaningfully (it's still as strong as it was last year) and income growth slows notably (it's still accelerating).

The March consumer price indices to be released Friday.

The market's looking for a half-point jump from the overall index and a two-tenths increase in its core counterpart.

The overall index has been accelerating since April 1998; the core has yet to put in a definitive trough -- it first hit a 1.9% year-on-year rate (its slowest pace of increase of the cycle) in August 1999 and is accelerating just two-tenths faster than that now.

An average two-tenths print would work against the notion that it's bottomed; a three-tenths print would work for it.

The March utilization numbers to be released Friday.

Capacity growth peaked at a 6.4% year-on-year rate in October 1998.

And it's grown at a slower and slower pace in each of the 16 months since.

It was

rising at a 3.9% rate as of February, which marks its slowest pace of increase since November 1994.

You've heard this here before, and now you'll hear it again: The capacity glut is becoming less glutty. News that it ticked down yet again in March is bad; news that it didn't is good.

The first-quarter employment cost index to be released April 27.

The gubmint bean counters calculate the wages and salaries portion of their ECI on a last-month-of-quarter-over-last-month-of-quarter basis; for the first quarter, the March over December change is the relevant one.

The average hourly earnings series of the employment report grew 1.2% over this period -- that marks its second biggest increase of the cycle (only a 1.3% increase during the second quarter of 1996 beat it). This, along with what were probably biggest-in-years auto-sector bonuses delivered last month (any

GM

(GM) - Get Report

employees out there? ... please drop me a

line if so) introduces the possibility that the ECI will print a relatively large 1.1% (compare to an average 0.8% since 1996) for a second straight quarter.

News like that, which would drive the year-on-year rate of ECI increase to 4% for the first time in eight years, is bad.

The first-quarter gross domestic product numbers to be released April 27.

The year-on-year increase in the core personal consumption expenditure price index accelerated to 1.5% during the fourth quarter from 1.3% during the third (it troughed at 1.2% during the second quarter of 1998). The year-on-year increase in the core gross domestic purchases price index also accelerated to 1.5% during the fourth quarter from 1.3% during the third (it troughed at 1.0% during the fourth quarter of 1998).

News that these indices accelerated further during the first quarter is bad; news that they didn't is good.

Epilogue

The bond is due for some kind of a smack here (it might run up more first; it might not). The pain might amount to less than a point; it might amount to more. It might come this week; it might not come until toward the end of the month. It might come as a result of unkind economic news (or an ordinary bullish unwind, as it's arguably overbought); it might come as a result of good numbers that cheer stocks.

One scenario has it falling on strong numbers toward week's end. Another has it just kind of hanging around until the 27th and getting knocked on big numbers then.

Whatever the case, we're on dip alert. Cause we want more.

Be nimble.

Be Jack.

Side Dish

When is traveling not traveling in Miami?

When you're T. Hardaway and the game's on the line.

Is the bond rally for real? Will it last?

God no.

Hell yes.