Economy Still Full Steam Ahead, Data Could Show

Bloomberg News

Efforts by the Federal Reserve to cool the U.S. economy had little impact on employment conditions or manufacturing, reports this week are expected to show. The economy probably added 371,000 jobs in March after a subdued gain of 43,000 in February blamed on winter storms in the Southeast, analysts are predicting. The monthly unemployment rate probably fell to 4% from 4.1%, tying a three-decade low, analysts said. Such statistics might cause the Fed to nudge interest rates even higher, after five rate increases since June 30 lifted the overnight bank lending rate target to 6%. Some analysts say the Fed could act again as soon as Friday, when the March unemployment report is set for release, rather than wait for the next formal policy meeting May 16.

Meanwhile, manufacturing probably grew in March, though at a slower pace than a month earlier, analysts said. The National Assn. of Purchasing Management's factory index, set for release today, is expected to register 56.6, down from 56.9 in February. Still, a reading above 50 indicates growth, and February's index was the highest in four months.

In other reports this week:

* Construction spending probably was unchanged in February after a 2.7% increase in January that was driven by public works projects. The Commerce Department is scheduled to release that report today.

* The index of leading economic indicators, a gauge of economic growth over the next six to nine months that will be released by the Conference Board on Tuesday, very likely fell 0.1 in February after rising 0.3 in January, reflecting falling stock values and building permits.

* Wholesale inventories, in a report due Thursday, probably rose 0.6% in February as businesses kept pace with consumer demand. In January, wholesale inventories rose 0.7%.

* Consumer credit probably rose $11.7 billion in February after increasing $17 billion in January, analysts said. The Fed is scheduled to release the credit statistics Friday. The report tracks credit card loans, auto loans and other personal loans, but not lending secured by real estate.

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