U.S. consumers have been doing their share of heavy economic lifting, despite the effect of the payroll tax hike, the across-the-board cuts in federal government discretionary spending and the effect of a cold spring. One reason may be lower gasoline prices. According to AAA, as of Thursday, May 16, the national average price of regular-grade gasoline had declined to $3.601 per gallon, which helped cut the consumer price index by 0.4 percent in April. Whether consumers, who account for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, can maintain their spending momentum remains to be seen.
"Consumers are starting to spend more freely, despite smaller paychecks, and home sales are starting to surge," said Beth Ann Bovino, deputy chief economist with Standard & Poor's, said Thursday, May 16. "So far, the consequences of government indecision haven't stopped Americans from spending. But sequestration is still young. Will people's devil-may-care attitude turn back into a need to swear off their spendthrift ways once sequestertion and higher taxes kick in?"
Another key U.S. economic driver is the slow real estate recovery. Data from that sector, however, is mixed. Housing starts fell 16.5 percent last month, especially because of a large decline in apartment construction. But the number of housing permits climbed sharply in April.
Outside of the U.S., prospects for a rebound in the global economy are dimming.
"Signs that global growth was picking up early this year have faded during the spring," Andrew Kenningham, senior global economist with London-based Capital Economics, said. He points to a variety of factors contributing to activity slowing down around the worldi
The big U.S. data points in the week beginning May 20 concern real estate and manfacturing, the latter of which is expected to show a decline. Outside the U.S., investors, analysts and policy makers will be paying particular close attention to Germany's first-quarter GDP, manufacturing data across the 17-nation euro zone and whether Japan's 3.5 percent gross domestic product growth in the first quarter, widely attributed to "Abenomics," can be sustained.
Below are entries on the economic calendar for May 20-24. All listed times are EDT.
8:30 a.m. -- Chicago Fed National Activity Index for April will be released. In March this metric, which reflects data from 85 economic indicators, rose to 0.23.
4 p.m. -- IMF Director Carlo Cottarelli addresses the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics on the outlook for fiscal adjustment in advanced economies.
5 p.m. -- Charles L. Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, addresses a meeting of the CFA Society.
Japan -- The government releases its final revision to a batch of leading indicators.
7:45 a.m. -- ICSC-Goldman chain store sales.
Germany -- Analysts expect producer prices in April to slide 0.1 percent.
Japan -- The Bank of Japan will release its decision about whether or not to change its key interest rate. The market's early response to the country's embrace of monetary easing has been favorable for Japanese exporters.
Japan -- The government will release data on April exports and imports.
Sweden -- Statistics Sweden releases unemployment figures for April. In March, Swedish jobless rose unexpectedly to 8.8 percent on a year-over-year basis.
Britain -- Consumer price index for the year ended in April.
7 a.m. -- Wall Street will be watching to see if the latest MBA Mortgage Index of mortgage applications continues the previous report's 7.3 percent decline.
10 a.m. -- Analysts expect 4.98 million existing home sales in April, up 1.2 percent from the March level of 4.92 million existing home sales.
10 a.m. -- Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke will testify on the outlook for the U.S. economy before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.
2 p.m. -- Minutes of the April 30-May 1 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the key rate-setting panel of the U.S. central bank. Investors will watch for signals that the bank will begin dialing down its unprecedented money printing.
Euro zone -- The monetary union releases its current account data for March.
South Africa -- The government releases figures on the nation's consumer price index.
8:58 a.m. -- The May purchasing managers index for manufacturing companies is expected to slip from the April level of 52.1.
9 a.m. -- The Federal Finance Housing Agency releases results of its survey of single-family, new home prices in March.
10 a.m. -- Economists see new home sales rising in April to 425 million from 417,000 in March.
France -- Officials will release the results of May's purchasing managers index survey by Markit of both manufacturing companies and service companies. Analysts expect the PMI for manufacturing to be in a range from 44 to 44.5, slightly down from the previous month's 44.4.
Germany -- Officials will release the results of May's purchasing managers index survey by Markit of both manufacturing companies and service companies. Analysts expect the PMI for manufacturing to be 48.4 compared with 48.1 in April; analysts expect the PMI for services to be 50 compared with 49.6.
Euro zone -- Officials will release the results of May's purchasing managers index survey by Markit for both manufacturing and service companies. Analysts expect the PMI for manufacturing in the 17-nation monetary union to be 47 compared with 46.7 in April; analysts expect the PMI for services to be 47.2 compared with 47 in April.
Euro zone -- The euro zone's consumer confidence index for May is expected to decline by 21.90 compared with a decline in April of 22.3.
8:30 a.m. -- The Commerce Department will release durable goods orders for April, which are expected to increase between 1.1 percent and 1.5 percent, after falling 5.8 percent in March.
8:30 a.m. -- Building permits for April.
Germany -- The first-quarter gross domestic product will be revealed.
Germany -- The GfK Group releases the consumer sentiment for June.
France -- The business climate for May is expected to remain unchanged at 88.
Germany -- Ifo Business Climate Index for May is expected to be 104.6 compared with 104.4 in April.
Sources: Central banks, European Commission, Reuters, Market News, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Capital Economics, Barclays, Bank of America Merrill Lynch.