Key economic events for the week of April 16

Posted April 15, 2012, at 7:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — This week could offer key insights into three areas that are fundamental to the nation’s economic recovery: consumer demand, employment, and housing. March’s jobs numbers fell far short of projections, and analysts will look for other signs to confirm whether the month’s data were an outlier or a harbinger of bad news.

Here’s a closer look at some of the most important economic indicators coming out this week:

Data on retail sales for March will be out Monday, which should help show whether slower consumer demand also accompanied the month’s plummeting jobs numbers. Analysts expect sales to increase just 0.3 percent — down from 1.1 percent in February — largely because auto sales probably fell. But there’s still the expectation that warmer weather, which continued into March, will boost sales of clothing and building materials, buttressing retail sales.

Meanwhile, the National Association for Home Builders releases its housing market index on Monday. Analysts expect the gauge to remain constant from March to April at 28.0. Though that’s still quite low, historically speaking, it’s higher than it was during most of the post-crash years.

On Tuesday, housing starts are expected to have warmed up last month, rising from 698,000 in February to 705,000 in March. That would continue the trend of positive, if gradual, growth in construction of new homes. In particular, housing starts for single-family homes are expected to rise in the West and the South, two areas of the country hit hardest by the housing meltdown.

On Thursday, initial jobless claims for the previous week are expected to be about 370,000, a slight decrease from the prior week, when claims were 380,000. Numbers that are significantly higher, however, could suggest that the labor market is weaker than expected, particularly when coupled with the March jobs numbers.

Also Thursday, analysts expect data on existing-home sales to rise slightly to 4.62 million in March, up from 4.59 million in February.

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