Fresh data this week will turn speedometer on economy

May 10 23:59 2015

Coming off Friday’s mixed report on April employment, this week’s news calendar should bring more clarity on whether the U.S. economy is picking up speed or merely cruising. The Labor Department will dish out another slice of labor market data on Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET with the release of its March JOLTS report — that’s short for the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey. A key data point will show whether more people are voluntarily quitting jobs. That could be a good sign because it would imply more workers have enough confidence in the job market and their prospects if they leave one job to search for another.AP FINANCIAL MARKETS WALL STREET F USA NY

The number of people who quit jobs, which dropped during the recession from 2007 to mid-2009, slipped slightly in February but reached the highest level in six years in January. After Friday’s jobs report, investors will be looking for clues to the real strength of the labor market. The Labor Department first reported March payrolls rose only 126,000 — the fewest in 15 months — but Labor’s revised estimate Friday fell to a scant 85,000. April’s job gains were estimated at 223,000 — roughly in line with economists’ forecasts and with the previous 12 months.

February’s JOLTS report also showed job openings at a 14-year high, so the March number will be one to watch, too. Look for new data on April retail sales on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET from the Commerce Department. Sales haven’t shown much life for months, even falling slightly in four months out of seven starting with September. March was better with a 0.9% rise from February, but almost midway through the second quarter, there is little evidence that consumers are spending much of the money they’ve been saving on gasoline prices that are still well below a year ago.

Economists don’t see April as the breakout month. Action Economics’ median forecast is for 0.5% growth overall and 0.4% excluding motor vehicles and parts. Thursday morning’s report on April’s producer price index, at 8:30 a.m. ET from Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, will signal whether more inflation is seeping into wholesale prices. It’s been pretty tame. Prices rose 0.3% in March after four straight monthly declines. Energy prices rose 1.5% in March while food prices fell 0.8%. Over the 12 months through March, prices were up only 0.8%. Action Economics predicts a 0.1% increase in the PPI for April and the same percentage gain excluding food and energy prices.

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