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What to know in the week ahead

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Traders are heading into a packed week of economic reports, with a surfeit of new information on the state of the U.S. labor market set to be released.

One of the most closely watched prints will be Friday’s March jobs report from the Labor Department. Equity investors will have a couple of days to digest the results, however, as the stock market will be closed on Friday in observance of Good Friday.

The March jobs report is expected to be the first this year to show meaningful progress in the job market recovery, as ramped-up vaccinations and the start of the latest stimulus check rollout helped boost consumer spending and hiring. Consensus economists are looking for 630,000 jobs to come back in March — or the most since October —with an unemployment rate falling to a more than one-year low of 6.0%. This would compare to an unemployment rate of 6.2% in February, and non-farm payroll growth of 379,000.

Better-than-expected job growth had occurred in February even in the face of harsh winter weather and a lapse in stimulus payments after the last virus-relief package passed in late December. With weather thawing for the spring and more business restrictions getting lifted in March, the latest jobs report will likely reflect even stronger employment gains, especially across industries hardest hit in recent months.

“There should be a positive payback in employment in the construction industry as the sector temporarily lost jobs in February owing to the winter storms in the South which should have reversed in subsequent weeks. Moreover, high frequency economic activity indicators portend to service sector employment surging in March,” Bank of America economist Michelle Meyer wrote in a note Friday. “Indicators such as total throughput of air travelers in U.S. airports and OpenTable seated diners measure all continued to gain in March suggesting better hiring in the leisure and hospitality industry. Lastly, school reopenings ramped up with many school districts allowing students to return to school for traditional in-person learning.”

During the week ended March 13 — or during survey week for the monthly March jobs report — initial jobless claims did tick up to nearly 800,000, though they have since come back down to a pandemic-era low of less than 700,000. And the overwhelming majority of other high frequency data points underscored a rise in hiring mid-month, offering an upbeat outlook for the March jobs report.

A construction worker directs traffic and wears a mask near Union Square on March 25, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

As Neil Dutta of Renaissance Macro Research pointed out last week, the Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey showed that the percent of firms reporting increases in paid employment increased to 7.1% for the week ended March 13, with increases in hours worked rising to 7.7%. These proportions were the highest since last summer. And Google mobility data has showed a clear increase in traffic at transit stations, retail and recreation sites and workplaces, Dutta added.

“We have not seen improvement this rapid since the initial reopening in the economy last spring. So, the declining in COVID cases is likely pushing up employment as businesses restart,” he said.

But even stronger-than-expected payroll gains in the March jobs report would still leave employment sharply below pre-pandemic levels. As of February, the economy remained nearly 10 million jobs short of its peak in February 2020.

“While we’re seeing signs of recovery, we should be clear-eyed about the hole we’re digging out of,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services last week.

Consumer confidence

With job gains on the upswing, consumer confidence also probably increased in March, helping to set off a virtuous cycle of increased spending and further gains in employment as demand picks up.

The Conference Board’s closely watched consumer confidence index is due for release Tuesday morning. Consensus economists are looking for the print to come in at a five-month high in March, increasing to 96.1 from February’s 91.3. Prior to the pandemic, the consumer confidence index averaged around 128 in 2019.

In the February print, the Conference Board’s labor differential — or the number of those saying jobs are hard to come by subtracted from those saying jobs are plentiful — turned positive for the first time in three months. This measure may have turned up even further in March as the job market made more headway in recovering lost payrolls.

And other earlier measures of monthly consumer confidence also pointed to improving optimism. Last week’s final March University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment index showed the biggest rise in consumer confidence in nearly eight years, pushing the index up to a pandemic-era high. Richard Curtin, the surveys of consumers chief economist, attributed the advance to the third dispersement of stimulus checks as well as faster-than-expected vaccinations.

“As prospects for obtaining vaccination have grown, so too has people’s impatience with isolation, as those concerns were voiced by nearly one-third of consumers in March, the highest level in the past year. The majority of consumers reported hearing of recent gains in the national economy, mainly net job gains,” Curtin said. “The data clearly point toward robust increases in consumer spending. The ultimate strength and duration of the spending surge will depend on the rate of draw-downs in savings since consumers anticipate a slower pace of income growth.”

Economic calendar

  • Monday: Dallas Fed Manufacturing Activity Index, March (14.5 expected, 17.2 in February)

  • Tuesday: FHFA House Price Index, month-over-month, January (1.3% expected, 1.1% in December); S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index, month-over-month, January (1.20% expected, 1.25% in December); S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index, year-over-year, January (11.25% expected, 10.10% in December); Conference Board Consumer Confidence, March (96.1 expected, 91.3 in February)

  • Wednesday: MBA Mortgage Applications, week ended March 26 (-2.5% during prior week); ADP Employment Change, March (550,000 expected, 117,000 in February); MNI Chicago PMI, March (60.0 expected, 59.5 in February); Pending home sales, month-over-month, February (-2.6% expected, -2.8% in January)

  • Thursday: Challenger Job Cuts, year-over-year, March (-39.1% in February); Initial jobless claims, week ended March 27 (680,000 expected; 684,000 during prior week); Continuing claims, week ended March 30 (3.870 million during prior week); Markit U.S. Manufacturing PMI, March final (59.0 expected, 59.0 in prior print); Construction spending, month-over-month, February (-0.9% expected, 1.7% in January); ISM Manufacturing, March (61.0 expected, 60.8 in February)

  • Friday: Change in non-farm payrolls, March (630,000 expected, 379,000 in February); Unemployment rate, March (6.0% expected, 6.2% in February); Average hourly earnings, month-over-month, March (0.2% expected, 0.2% in February); Average hourly earnings, year-over-year, March (4.5% expected, 5.3% in February)

Earnings calendar

  • Monday: N/A

  • Tuesday: Chewy (CHWY) after market close

  • Wednesday: Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA), Dave & Busters (PLAY), Micron (MU) after market close

  • Thursday: N/A

  • Friday: N/A

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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