WASHINGTON — In the wake of Friday’s overwhelmingly positive jobs report, investors and analysts are likely to be paying close attention to this week’s economic indicators to see whether there are other signs that the economy is headed toward a real recovery.
The National Federation of Independent Business on Tuesday will release its index of small-business optimism, which analysts expect to rise to 94.3 for February, from 93.9 the previous month. The NFIB index has been on the rise since June 2011, and if analysts are correct, it is set to reach its highest level since the recession began. This is particularly significant because small businesses have had a more difficult time than larger firms in getting loans, even as the economy has begun to pick up.
Also Tuesday, retail sales for February are expected to be up 1 percent, compared with a 0.4 percent increase the previous month. But a significant part of that increase could be linked to the rising cost of gasoline: Excluding auto and gas sales, the number is expected to be 0.5 percent. If the cost of gas continues to rise, that could ultimately pinch pocketbooks and hurt consumer consumption in other sectors.
Later in the day, the numbers for January’s business inventories will be out: They’re expected to have risen 0.6 percent in January, after a disappointing December in which they increased by 0. 4 percent — far below expectations. Rising inventories would indicate that firms believe consumer demand is coming back, and February’s retail sales numbers will confirm whether expectations were fulfilled.
Thursday brings two key indicators for the manufacturing sector today. First, the New York Fed’s Empire State manufacturing survey for March will be out, and analysts expect it to decrease to 17.40. That’s down from 19.53 in February, but still relatively high compared with the worst part of the recession.
Soon after, the Philadelphia Fed releases its business outlook for manufacturers in its own district, which is expected to rise slightly to 11.0 in March, compared with 10.2 previously. That’s far below the high of about 40 points in 2010, when a manufacturing renaissance was helping to lead the recovery.
On Friday, the consumer price index is expected have risen 0.4 percent in February, compared with 0.2 percent in January. But again, the rising cost of gas has been driving much of that increase; minus food and energy prices, the CPI is expected to rise 0.2 percent, the same increase as last month.