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The Week Ahead


Business Outlook

THE WEEK AHEAD

RETAIL SALES

Thursday, Mar. 11, 8:30 a.m.

Retail sales for February are expected to show a 0.3% advance, according to the median forecast of the economists surveyed by MMS International. The gain would follow a similar 0.3% rise reported for January sales. The economists expect sales of cars and light trucks to hold back the February increase by a bit, but buying elsewhere should register continued growth. They expect sales excluding autos to rise 0.4%. Reports from department and chain stores through February showed no significant letup in spending. If the forecast is on the mark, retail sales are on track to grow only about half as fast as they did in the fourth quarter of last year. That means consumers will not be supplying

PRODUCER PRICE INDEX

Friday, Mar. 12, 8:30 a.m.

The MMS survey projects a 0.3% increase in the February producer price index for finished goods. That rise would follow a 0.2% gain in January. Excluding food and energy, the core index should look even tamer, says the survey. The core index is expect to post a 0.2% gain. If so, that would allay some of the inflation worries that were bred by last month's 0.4% jump. The annual pace of core inflation for the PPI remains close to the lowest rate in two decades.

BUSINESS INVENTORIES

Friday, Mar. 12, 10 a.m.

Inventories held by manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers most likely posted a 0.2% increase in January, according to the MMS survey. Manufacturers probably held their stock levels steady, after declines in the four previous months. The ratio of factory inventories to shipments in December had fallen to the lowest level in the 35-year history of the data. Manufacturers are now increasing their production, partly because of the need to rebuild inventories that were depleted by strong demand at the end of last year. Retailers and wholesalers should account for all of the January gain in inventories.JAMES C. COOPER AND KATHLEEN MADIGAN


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