Spotlight on Fed, retail, manufacturing, inflation

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies during a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee on February 7, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to examine "The Outlook for U.S. Monetary and Fiscal Policy." Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

(MoneyWatch) During the Great Recession, the economy was stuck in a vicious cycle. Jobs were vanishing; consumer and business confidence plunged; demand for everything from cars to TVs to computers dropped; which in turn, caused even more job cuts. The cycle was finally broken about two years ago, but the economy has never really felt like it was firing on all pistons. Instead, the country is mired in a slow-growth recovery.

This week, readings on retail sales, manufacturing and inflation will provide more insight about whether the U.S. economy is entering a new phase. Ideally, the economy will accelerate and enter a virtuous cycle, where job growth is plentiful; confidence rises; demand for goods and services increases; spending increases; and job hiring accelerates.

None of that will happen if consumers are so spooked by rising gas prices that they pull back on spending; or if global growth slows and halts the progress in manufacturing; or if prices start rising for more than just energy. In the middle of the data dump, the Federal Reserve will meet and likely keep interest rates at 0-0.25 percent, which is where they have been for over three years.

Stocks' worst day of 2012
Greek Deal: Bailout triggers insurance payment
Anniversary: Three-year bull market in stocks
February Jobs: Another robust report

It was a week full of sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing. The Dow had its first triple digit loss of the year, the Greek deal finally got done and investors didn't feel much like marking the three-year bull market in stocks. Maybe there was little celebration because according to mutual fund flows, many individual investors have not participated in the doubling of stocks over the past three years.

-- DJIA: 12,922, down .4% on week, up 5.8% on year

-- S&P 500: 1,369, up .09%, up 9% on year

-- NASDAQ: 2,988, up .4%, up 14.7% on year

-- April Crude Oil: $107.40, up 0.6% on week

-- April Gold: $1,711.50, up 0.1% on the week

-- AAA National Average Price for Gallon of Regular Gas: $3.78 (up from $3.49 a month ago)

FACTOIDS OF THE WEEK: February Jobs: Another robust report

-- Jobs Created: +227,000 (January and December revised up by 61,000)

-- Private Sector Jobs Created: +233,000

-- Government: -6,000 (in 2011, government lost an average of 22,000 per month)

-- Unemployment Rate: 8.3 percent

-- Under-Employment Rate (marginally-attached, part-time): 14.9 percent (the first time its been below 15 percent since January 2009--in 2007, the rate was 8 percent)

-- Total Number of Unemployed: 12.8 million (unchanged)

-- Long-term unemployed (jobless for 27 weeks and over): 5.4 million representing 42.6 percent of the total unemployed (down from 5.5 million)

THE WEEK AHEAD:

Monday 3/12:

Greek debt swap takes place

Eurozone and EU Finance ministers meet

2:00 Treasury budget

Tuesday 3/13:

7:30 NFIB Small Business Optimism Index

8:30 Retail sales

10:00 Business inventories

2:15 Federal Reserve interest rate announcement

Wednesday 3/14:

7:00 Weekly mortgage applications

8:30 Import/export prices

9:00 Ben Bernanke speaks

Thursday 3/15:

Fed releases stress tests on big banks

8:30 Weekly jobless claims

8:30 Producer price index

8:30 Empire State Manufacturing

10:00 Philadelphia Fed survey

Fri 3/16:

8:30 Consumer price index

9:15 Industrial production

9:55 Consumer sentiment

Quadruple Witching: Contracts for stock index futures, stock index options, stock options and single stock futures (SSF) all expire (can lead to increased volatility in the days prior).

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    Jill Schlesinger, CFP®, is the Editor-at-Large for CBS MoneyWatch. She covers the economy, markets, investing or anything else with a dollar sign. Prior to the launch of MoneyWatch in 2009, Jill was the chief investment officer for an independent investment advisory firm. In her infancy, she was an options trader on the Commodities Exchange of New York.

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