(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.
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:
Greek debt swap takes place
Eurozone and EU Finance ministers meet
2:00 Treasury budget
7:30 NFIB Small Business Optimism Index
8:30 Retail sales
10:00 Business inventories
2:15 Federal Reserve interest rate announcement
7:00 Weekly mortgage applications
8:30 Import/export prices
9:00 Ben Bernanke speaks
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
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).