Last week was quiet on the economic front, but don't expect a repeat for the final five sessions of August. Several key reports are on the schedule, many of which singularly have the ability to move the markets, and together they will keep investors on their toes from start to finish. One of the most watched numbers of the coming week will be durable goods orders for July, due out on Tuesday. The consensus calls for a 1.4% increase, up from a disappointing decline of 3.8% in June. "That was the infamous number that last month got people calling for the Fed to cut rates," said Brian Wesbury, chief economist at Griffin Kubrik Stephens & Thompson, a Chicago investment banking firm. He's forecasting a 2.2% increase in orders for durable goods. "There's a chance I could be disappointed in this," he added. "But if we see weakness in the July data it will be an aberration. The economy is in recovery, though it might have paused slightly." Mike Moran, chief economist at Daiwa Securities America, agrees that next week's durable goods number should show that the economy is on the rebound. "I think the economy is doing much better than that June report," Moran said. "That's not to say we have a vigorous economy, but it is growth."
Two measures of consumer attitudes about the health of the economy will also be released. On Tuesday, the Conference Board will produce its consumer confidence reading for August, and on Friday, the University of Michigan's final consumer sentiment reading for this month is due. Analysts are expecting the confidence measure to tick higher, while the Michigan survey is expected to be unchanged. Consumer confidence could be helped in part by the recent run-up in the stock market. Despite a steep drop Friday, for the week, the Nasdaq closed up 1.4%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.1%, and the S&P 500 gained 1.3%. Another key report will be the second look at the second-quarter gross domestic product numbers on Thursday. Economists expect the report to confirm the growth of around 1% that the first pass showed at the end of July. On Friday, an important reading on Midwestern manufacturing, the Chicago purchasing managers' index , will come out. The measure should indicate a slight increase in factory activity, coming in at 52.5, up from 51.5 in July. "I think that number will be interpreted as generally positive for the economy," Moran said. "This and other numbers will indicate that the rough patch at the beginning of the summer was temporary and a modest recovery will develop and there won't be a double-dip recession."
Hard to Know
Of course, not all economists believe even decent news will necessarily translate into further gains in the stock market. "I feel bullish about the numbers coming out, but they won't help the stock market," said Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board in New York. "We won't go back into a bull market for at least two or three years." Investors also continue to grapple with price-to-earnings ratios and worry that a realistic pace of growth might not justify current valuations, Goldstein said. Among other data due out in the coming week, analysts are expecting gains from the personal income and spending numbers. Investors also will be keeping their eyes on the new and existing home sales figures due out Monday. Forecasts are for both to show that consumers continue actively buying homes. "The numbers will be important if they show weakness," Wesbury said. "They're the pillars of strength in this economy." Meanwhile, a few quarterly earnings will continue to trickle in. Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ), H&R Block ( HRB), Krispy Kreme ( KKD) and PetsMart ( PETM) are all scheduled to release earnings.