Besides monitoring the events in Libya and Japan, investors had quite a few economic reports to digest last week. Small business optimism improved slightly in February and companies reported more hiring activity.
Consumer credit rose by 5 billion dollars in January as car loans increased, and new claims for jobless benefits rose by 26,000 much more than expected, but held below a level associated with a job market recovery. In the week ahead, investors await data on interest rates, housing, and inflation.
The Federal Reserve will meet to discuss the economy and interest rates. During their January meeting the Fed kept its key interest rate – which affects mortgage, credit card and student loan rates – unchanged. And said the economic recovery was too slow to improve the labor market.
We’ll check in on housing with the February housing starts report. The last report was mixed. In January, new home construction jumped 14.6 percent to its fastest pace since September 2010 – but building permits – a gauge of of future building activity – plunged almost 10.5 percent.
Is inflation a concern? We’ll find out with the February consumer price index report – which tracks price changes for food, clothing, and energy. In January, prices rose 4/10th of one percent – a little higher than expected – driven by higher gas prices.