) -- The consumer will be in focus next week, as the government will release its read on November retail sales, providing another glimpse of the strength of holiday shopping.

Investors parsing the state of the economic recovery received a pleasant surprise Friday when the Labor Department reported that the rate of U.S. job loss slowed much more sharply than expected in November. The government's report on

nonfarm payrolls

for November showed a loss of 11,000 jobs, vs. the consensus expectation of a decline of 125,000, and nation's jobless rate also edged down to 10% from a 26-year high of 10.2% in October.

Another key facet of the recovery, however, is consumer spending. The retail sales report will be the most closely watched of several important clues about whether consumers are confident enough to open their wallets wider.

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The Commerce Department will issue the retail sales report Friday. The last several days of November included Black Friday, which marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, and Cyber Monday. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters expect an increase of 0.7% in November vs. a 1.4% increase in October, which had been boosted by automobile buyers re-entering the market after taking a break after the summer's Cash for Clunkers stimulus program. Excluding auto sales, economists expect a 0.4% increase in retail sales, vs. a 0.2% increase in October.

Also on Friday, the University of Michigan will report its Consumer Sentiment Index for December. Economists expect a 68.5 reading, which would mark an increase from 67.4 in November, but last week's upside surprise in the nonfarm payrolls report could boost the expected number.


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J.C. Penney

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already are among the retailers to have reported disappointing

same-store sales

for November. But behemoths


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Best Buy

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do not report monthly sales numbers.


Pep Boys

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Men's Warehouse



Dollar General

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and Costco are set to report quarterly earnings during the week.

Outside of the retail space, companies scheduled to report earnings include

H&R Block

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National Semiconductor



Elsewhere, the

Federal Reserve

will issue its report on consumer credit for October on Monday. Wednesday brings the Census Bureau's report on wholesale inventories for October, followed by read on the international trade balance for October on Thursday and November import and export prices on Friday. The Census Bureau also reports on October business inventories on Friday.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will speak to the Economic Club of Washington on Monday, and investors will be keen to hear his thoughts on the economy in the wake of last week's upside surprise in the jobs report. The equities market pulled back after an initial rally on Friday, perhaps in part because of fears the central bank may soon raise its target interest rate if the job market continues to improve.

The week also is expected to bring several initial public offerings, including

Chesapeake Lodging Trust


China Nuokang Bio-Pharmaceutical


Trony Solar Holdings

on Wednesday, followed by

Linkage Technologies


Concord Medical Services


Ellington Financial


KAR Auction Services


Pebblebrook Hotel Trust

on Thursday.


Written by Michael Gannon in New York

Gannon joined in March 2007, after spending more than six years as a reporter and editor for The Journal News in Westchester County, N.Y., most recently as an assistant metro editor. He earlier covered several political and government beats as a reporter, including the city of Yonkers. Earlier in his career, he covered venture capital, private equity and the IPO market for Thomson Financial's Venture Capital Journal and advertising for Sales-Fax, a small, independent trade weekly. He earned a B.A. in history from the College of the Holy Cross and an M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University�s Medill School.