5 pieces of economic data investors are watching this week

Among the scheduled releases analysts are watching: U.S. retail sales and housing starts—as well as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s testimony before Congress.

Stocks are rebounding off a volatile week, which saw markets sell off roughly 5%, notching their worst week of performance since March. But now, analysts are eyeing a few key announcements in a week jam-packed with economic data that could provide some insights for investors looking for signs the economy is beginning to recover.

Fed testimony

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is due to testify before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. Last week, Chairman Powell detailed a perhaps more dreary outlook than some investors had hoped for, with the Fed announcing it expects to keep interest rates at near zero through 2022. CFRA’s Sam Stovall suggests the catalysts that triggered so-called announcement anxiety in the markets were the Fed’s “pessimistic across-the-board projections for 2020” and interest rate projections that are “causing investors to infer that the economic recovery will be weaker than anticipated.”

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Stocks are rebounding off a volatile week, which saw markets sell off roughly 5%, notching their worst week of performance since March. But now, analysts are eyeing a few key announcements in a week jam-packed with economic data that could provide some insights for investors looking for signs the economy is beginning to recover.

Fed testimony

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is due to testify before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. Last week, Chairman Powell detailed a perhaps more dreary outlook than some investors had hoped for, with the Fed announcing it expects to keep interest rates at near zero through 2022. CFRA’s Sam Stovall suggests the catalysts that triggered so-called announcement anxiety in the markets were the Fed’s “pessimistic across-the-board projections for 2020” and interest rate projections that are “causing investors to infer that the economic recovery will be weaker than anticipated.”

Edward Jones’ Nela Richardson points out that while the markets knew the depth of the downturn would be significant, “the length is something altogether different, so there’s a reaction there,” she says.

While those like Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, don’t think the chairman will say anything this week to dramatically change or add to his previous statement, the testimony may provide nuggets to “enlighten” investors, he suggests.

Retail sales

One big area of focus for analysts? Data showing strength in the consumer.

Retail sales data comes in on Tuesday, and those like Richardson suggest that “while we’ve seen factories reopening and manufacturing start to climb back online, that does not mean that the other side of that transaction is ready to go back: If they build it, will people buy it?” she says. The answer may likely be yes, Richardson says, as consumer sentiment data has recently been pretty good. “That’s a good sign that that demand will eventually come back, but we’re going to be watching for that,” she notes. Hamrick also says retail sales are expected to bounce back, coming off a record 16.4% drop in April.

While retail sales are expected to rebound in May, those like Credit Suisse’s James Sweeney note “the recovery will only be gradual as reopening happens in phases and consumer behavior shifts. With confidence still depressed and the labor market impaired, consumption is likely to take years to recover despite recent fiscal relief helping to support household income,” Sweeney writes.

Housing starts

Housing starts and building permits will be announced Wednesday, and are also expected to advance in May. Edward Jones’ Richardson believes housing starts should be “an important indicator of future demand and the desire of builders to actually continue with building plans: That can be a favorable signal that’s been boosted by very, very low interest rates.”

Manufacturing data

Additionally, somewhat positive data came in from the Empire State Manufacturing Index on Monday, far surpassing expectations by jumping 48 points to around –0.2 (indicating fairly steady business conditions) in what some strategists noted looked like a “V-shaped recovery” in the data.

Also on the docket this week is the release of Philly Fed manufacturing index data on Thursday, which “should extend May gains,” CFRA’s Stovall writes.

Jobless claims

And, of course, strategists will be keenly watching the initial and continuing jobless claims reports on Thursday to gauge how quickly employment is rebounding (weekly jobless claims have steadily ticked down for the past couple of months but are still over 1 million).

In light of the selloff last week and market rebound on Monday, analysts say to expect volatility moving forward.

And for investors planning their way around that new volatility, Edward Jones’ Richardson has a word of advice: “We’re going to see sectors rebound in patches, we’re going to see occasional backboard steps in the reopening process. This should be part of our strategy in terms of investing: Expect to see a setback here and there and an occasional pullback in the market,” she says.

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