Key economic events for week of March 19

Posted March 18, 2012, at 6:26 p.m.

WASHINGTON — After the month kicked off with a positive jobs report, this week’s economic news is likely to center on the housing sector. Economic analysts expect to see data that show the housing sector to be on an economic upswing, which could bolster confidence about the state of the wider economy.

The National Association of Home Builders on Monday publishes its monthly housing market index, which measures both present and expected sales of homes in coming months. The report should give clues not only about the demand for homes, but also about overall consumer confidence. A high index number would indicate that Americans feel increasingly confident about making a major financial d ecision — purchasing a house.

The housing market index hit 29 in February, its highest number since May 2007. Analysts on Monday expect to see the index tick up slightly, to 30 this month.

Tuesday is another big day for housing data, as the U.S. Census Bureau releases new numbers on housing starts, defined as the registered start of construction for residential buildings.

Much like the housing market index, a high level of housing starts would signify increased confidence in the real estate market. Market analysts predict 700,000 new home starts, up from 699,000 in January.

Wednesday rounds out a third straight day of housing news, when the National Association of Realtors publishes numbers of existing home sales. Again, analysts expect to see a slight uptick on this metric, to 4.6 million existing home sales in February. While these numbers do not include the purchase or construction of new homes, they do provide a gauge of consumer confidence.

A slight pivot away from housing, as the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday publishes the latest totals on initial jobless claims. These represent the number of individuals who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time in the previous week, and they provide investors with insight on the strength of the job market. Analysts expect to see jobless claims remain constant, at 351, 000.

A final piece of housing news rounds out the week as the National Association of Realtors on Friday publishes its monthly look at new home sales, which is expected to show 325,000 new housing purchases. That would be a slight increase from the February report, which showed 321,000 new homes sold.

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