This week brings an action-packed slate of economic reports. But the jobs report, due Friday from the Labor Department, is likely to be steal the show. Even there, however, it is likely that this show seems more like a rerun.
That's because it is expected to tell much the same story as other recent reports: subpar payrolls growth fails to decrease the unemployment rate substantially. The December report pegged unemployment at 7.8 percent, with 155,000 jobs added to payrolls.
Lynn Reaser, chief economist for Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, says the expected pace of around 150,000 would mirror the average pace of job growth in 2011 and 2012. She expects the payrolls report to reflect an increase of about 165,000 jobs in the private sector and a decrease of about 10,000 jobs in the public sector. "The jobless rate also likely held stable at 7.8 percent for the third month in a row," she says.
For months now, employers have cited a lack of certainty on budget and other federal policy issues as one reason why they are not hiring more aggressively. The Beige Book economic survey, released by the Federal Reserve earlier this month, noted some delays in hiring, mostly in the defense manufacturing sector.
Recovery from Superstorm Sandy is now thought to be providing a lift to the job market.
"Certain forces are likely to have improved the unemployment rate in certain areas," says Nayantara Hensel, professor of industry and business at National Defense University. "For example, the labor markets in the northeastern U.S. are rebounding from (Superstorm) Sandy, and continued workers have been needed for reconstruction and rebuilding." Other positives she cites are new home construction and firming auto sales.
Despite the flat monthly showing expected in this week's report, CareerBuilder spokeswoman Jennifer Grasz says 2013 should bring a better hiring picture. "Hiring activity in the U.S. has been on a gradual upward trajectory," she says. "Employers are in a better financial position today and are focused on growing their businesses, but they're still assessing the implications of a weakened global market. The guarded approach to hiring that we've seen throughout the recovery is likely to continue this year, but improve over last year."
The Federal Reserve holds a two-day, policy-setting session this week. But the meeting is not expected to change the outlook for interest rates.
Besides the jobs report, the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index is slated for Friday as well. The previous reading, which registered 50.7, showed growth in manufacturing for only the third time in seven months.
Tuesday brings the consumer confidence index from The Conference Board. The business group cited a sharp decline in expectations for the December decline, which it blamed on uncertainty surrounding the "fiscal cliff."
As for what consumers are actually spending, auto manufacturers release their monthly sales figures this week. Edmunds.com expects total sales of new cars and trucks in January to be up 14.5 percent from a year earlier.
Another assessment of the consumer comes Thursday, when the Commerce Department releases monthly reports on personal incomes and spending.