Key economic events for the coming week

Posted Feb. 19, 2012, at 8:01 p.m.

WASHINGTON — New data this week could show whether optimism will continue to build around a slowly strengthening economy.

The National Association of Retailers on Wednesday releases its data on existing-home sales. The figure should serve as a gauge of demand for housing as well as a measure of the overall economy’s strength.

Home resales have slowly crept upward in recent months, a trend expected to continue in Tuesday’s data release. Analysts expect to see 4.65 million such homes sold in January. That would be a 0.9 percent increase over the 4.61 million sold the previous month.

New data on initial jobless claims on Thursday could provide insight into the state of the American job market. Analysts expect the Labor Department to report 355,000 initial jobless claims. That would represent a 2.6 percent increase over the 348,000 initial claims reported in the prior weeks, indicating a slight increase in the number of American job seekers.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City also on Thursday releases its monthly look at the state of manufacturing in its district, which covers a wide swath of the Midwest. Analysts expect to see a continued increase in manufacturing activity, a trend that has continued from late 2011.

Friday should be another critical day for sizing up the housing recovery. Housing starts are expected to total 315,000, up 2.6 percent from the 307,000 reported by the U.S. Census Bureau last month. New-home sales have increased regularly but slowly in recent months.

The week ends with some insight into consumer sentiment from the University of Michigan’s consumer survey. The survey measures American households’ attitudes toward the national economy.

Consumer confidence hit a one-year high in January but dropped slightly in survey data released in early February. Analysts expect this month’s data to show consumer confidence holding steady, hovering just slightly higher than where it stood earlier this month.

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