Investors received mixed signals on the economy last week. Small business optimism rose to a one year high in February marking six months of improvement. Businesses expect increased demand for products. Initial jobless claims fell by 14,000 to 351,000, a 4-year low and a sign the labor market continues to strengthen, but consumer prices rose by four tenths of 1 percent, the biggest increase in 10 months due to higher gas prices. In the week ahead, we expect earnings reports from General Mills, Fed Ex and Nike as well several economic reports.

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We’ll get a few reads on housing. In January, new construction rose 1.5 percent. Due to growth in multi-family units, and building permits, a gauge of future building activity rose nearly 1 percent.

We’ll also get the February new home sales report. In January sales fell by nearly 1 percent after four straight months of gains…but sales in the south surged 9 percent. The median price of a new home held steady at 217,000 dollars.

We’ll gain further insight on the economy with the February leading indicators report which tracks manufacturing activity, new claims for jobless benefits and stock prices. In January leading indicators rose 4 tenths of one percent, its highest level in 3.5 years due to gains in manufacturing.