Focus will be on U.S. economic indicators, retail earnings

TORONTO – North American markets will look to a number of key reports in the U.S. this week that may shed some light on how the world’s largest economy will fare in the long term.

“Everything will really focus on what is the state of the economy in the second half of the year,” said Andrew Pyle, associate director of wealth management for Scotia MacLeod.

One of the reports that will be closely watched will be the U.S. retail sales figures for July, which will be released on Tuesday.

What people are spending can be a key indicator of how stable the economy has become and where it is headed in the near-future. Consumers’ confidence is closely watched because their spending accounts for 70 per cent of economic growth.

Pyle said regional figures from two of the biggest cities in the U.S. will also be front and centre.

The latest Philadelphia Fed’s manufacturing survey will be released Thursday. Last month, the index surged to its highest level in more than three years, coming in at 19.8, up from 12.5 in June. That was much higher than the reading of 10 that economists had expected.

On Friday, the University of Michigan will also release its index of consumer sentiment on Friday.

“A lot of it will be about fundamentals, and to the extent those indicators come in positive, that could help this market find a little bit of a base sooner,” he said.

“If we see disappointment on a number of these U.S. numbers coming out, I think it could exacerbate the selling we’ve seen so far this month.”

The markets are still weary about the timing of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s planned pullback on monetary stimulus. The central bank is currently buying $85-billion a month in bonds, but said it was prepared to stop the purchases once it sees signs of an economic recovery.

This has left investors worried about what markets will do once it stops.

“The big thing that investors are concerned about is what the Federal Reserve does next. There’s an intense debate in the market about that,” said Pyle. “Markets are in limbo.”

Comments from Fed officials have been in focus after two regional presidents last week said the central bank could make its moves to slow stimulus in the shorter term, though the exact timing was left to interpretation. The Fed has previously said that it won’t make the cuts until there are clear signs that it would be safe to do so.

Meanwhile, there is little in the way of economic news slated to come out of Canada this week. The only notable release will be a survey on manufacturing shipments scheduled for Friday.

In corporate news, gold miner Iamgold Corp. (TSX:IMG) and oil and gas explorer TransGlobe Energy Corp. (TSX:TGL) both report Monday.

On Thursday, home renovation retailer Rona Inc. (TSX:RON) will also release its second-quarter results, and grocery and pharmacy chain Metro Inc. will discuss its third-quarter results.

Metro (TSX:MRU) is facing stiff competition from other chains like Loblaw (TSX:L) and Empire Company’s (TSX:EMP).

In the U.S., retailers Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Nordstrom and Macy’s, will also be gearing up to report their quarterly earnings this week, ahead of back-to-school season.