After suffering losses last week, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) will have one more week of respite from earnings reports before athletic-apparel giant Nike reports on June 26. Dow investors should keep their eyes open for possible updates on guidance for the second quarter, but most of the attention this week will go toward analyzing economic data and their potential implications for the long-term health of the U.S. economy.
Monday: Industrial production
On Monday, the Federal Reserve will release the latest figures on industrial production and capacity utilization. Last month, the Fed's report showed a 0.6% drop in its industrial production index, reversing course after gains of 1.1% in February and 0.9% in March. But for May, economists anticipate a 0.5% rise in industrial production and a jump in capacity utilization as well.
Over the past several years, industrial production has risen at roughly a 3% to 4% clip, which is consistent with the steady plodding progress in the overall economy. Despite gains of about eight percentage points in capacity utilization rates since early 2010, the industrial economy is still well below full capacity. Somewhat interestingly, capacity utilization rates in the mining sector remain extremely high even though commodities prices have been low. Further strength could bolster the prospects for General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , which has shown interest in getting into the mining-equipment business, and could predict better results for Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) and other heavy-equipment manufacturers in the future as well.
Tuesday: Housing data and CPI
On Tuesday, economists give a double-dose of information to the market. The Census Bureau will issue May figures for housing starts and permits, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics will give its latest reading on inflation with its Consumer Price Index.
Housing starts have trended upward for the past five years, and even though most economists expect a pullback in May from April's figures, expectations for more than 1 million housing starts and new-home permits show the continued strength in the construction segment. April's jump of more than 26% from year-ago levels for housing starts and 8% for permits built enthusiasm among investors for housing construction. Yet even a repeat of such positive news won't necessarily be welcome for traditional homebuilders, because most of the activity in the residential construction market recently has come from multi-family projects like apartment buildings and condominiums. Investors should watch careful to see if the same disparity between single-family and multi-family homes persists.
Meanwhile, the CPI is expected to rise 0.2%, showing the continued moderation of price increases yet also dispelling concerns about possible deflation. Given the recent turmoil in Iraq, a rise in gasoline prices could eventually push through to the CPI, although it won't affect the May numbers to be released on Tuesday. For Dow investors, the real key is looking at price changes for particular items and how they affect margins. In particular, food costs have major implications for McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) , which could use some moderation in the price of the ingredients it uses for its menu offerings in order to offset weakness in revenue.
Keep your eyes open
Economic data won't be the only thing moving the Dow Jones Industrials this week, but smart investors will still look at the numbers to see how they fit into their long-range forecasts. Although focusing on month-to-month fluctuations can leave you whipsawed, paying attention to the overall course of economic growth is vital to make good investments.
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