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Data that could move markets

By Sheyna Steiner · Bankrate.com
Monday, February 6, 2012
Posted: 2 pm ET

On Friday, good news came in the form of the nonfarm payrolls report, which showed a growth in private jobs of 243,000 and a decrease in the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent.

Investors rejoiced, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index finished Friday up 1.46 percent from the previous day's close.

Last week's release from the Institute for Supply Management, the ISM manufacturing index, also brought some good news, showing that the manufacturing sector expanded in January as did the overall economy.

This week, investors will be waiting for the consumer credit report, the trade balance report released on Friday by the Commerce Department as well as the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Federal Reserve will release their monthly report on consumer credit. This week's release will show the change in consumer credit levels for the month of December. In November, consumer credit increased at an annual rate of 9.9 percent -- a big jump from the previous month when it increased by 2.9 percent.

"There was a big bump in November, and the consensus is to be a gain as there was such a large increase," says John Stewart, economist and managing director of Vantage Economics.

But, "real personal consumption did taper off in December, so you could see less than staggering numbers for consumer credit outstanding," he says.

Increases in consumer credit can indicate that people are willing to spend and take on debt.

On Friday comes the trade balance report, which tallies the total dollar amount of goods exported and imported. The difference between the two is known as the trade balance -- most commonly referred to as the trade deficit in this country as the U.S. imports more goods than it exports.

Another metric followed by economists is the current account. It incorporates the trade balance but also includes a country's other sources of income and expenses.

"Trade deficit number typically doesn't get a whole lot of trading activity unless it is something that is unexpected -- even though exports have been a pretty significant contributor to economic growth over the past couple of years," says Stewart.

"It's pretty important for us to be able to export, and (it) has had a positive effect on the overall economy. It can also helps us tell how healthy the international economy is as well," he says.

Also on Friday, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index will be released. The Michigan survey typically follows the same general trend as the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, and that fell slightly last week.

Unlike the trade gap, the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index can move markets, even though consumers' feelings tend to lag behind economic developments.

"It's difficult to gauge where the economy is based on consumer sentiment," Stewart says. "It’s a good contrast to what we see with the trade gap, this survey moves markets whereas a lot of times people don't pay a lot of attention to the trade gap even though the trade gap is more important to economic health."

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