Week Ahead: AT&T, Libya and Japan and Housing

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With the president traveling in Latin America and Congress on recess, there's no one issue driving the economic agenda and markets this week. As a result, investors will be pay close attention to the allies' air assault in Libya as well as other developments in the Middle East and what they mean for oil production and prices.

And, of course, as Japan continues its recovery efforts and struggles to get the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station under control, analysts will watch how fast Japanese industries return to normal operations.  In the U.S., key housing data will be released this week along with the final results of economic growth in the last three months of 2010.

Oh, and Verizon? Can you hear me now? AT&T announced this weekend it plans to buy smaller rival T-Mobile for $39 billion in a cash and stock offer.  The deal will catapult AT&T from No. 2, behind Verizon, to the nation's largest wireless carrier. AT&T and T-Mobile use the same wireless technology and the deal could lead to better cell service for AT&T subscribers who have complained about dropped calls and poor signals.

Consumer groups argue that with only two wireless companies controlling nearly 3/4 of the market, a lack of competition could send prices higher. While it could be a tough fight to get regulatory approval, AT&T is confident.  It agreed to pay a $3 billion breakup fee to T-Mobile if the deal doesn't happen.

And this week, the Census will release data on New York State.  Number crunchers, get your excel sheets ready!

MONDAY, March 21

Gasoline prices rose 5 cents last week to $3.57 per gallon, up 78 cents from a year ago.  Updated weekly gasoline prices released around 4pm.

Existing home sales for February expected to drop from 5.36 million in January to just over 5 million in February. Existing home sales make up the biggest segment of sales. This is the first of two reports this week looking at the housing market. Despite the expected drop, once the spring comes there could be an increase in sales as credit conditions are more lenient compared to the previous past years and the employment picture has improved, albeit slowly.

TUESDAY, March 22

Reports that Nassau county officials and the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority will meet to discuss the troubled county's budget. Last week, a judge denied the county’s request to stop the state from taking control of its finances. 

The Treasury Department holds a series of panel discussion on the theme of "Access to Capital: Fostering Growth and Innovation for Small Companies." Expect lots of talk about seed capital to start businesses to IPOs.

Columbia University holds a panel discussion on "The Economic, Health and Political Consequences of Japan’s Earthquake" at 6 p.m. 


New home sales results for February released, a much smaller subset, one that can fluctuate dramatically.  Economists expecting a slight increase from to an annual rate of 287,000 homes sold, compared to 284,000 in January.

THURSDAY, March 24

New York State and City unemployment data for February will be released.  In January, the state rate was 8.3 percent, while the city was at 8.9 percent. For that month, the national rate was 9.0 percent.

"Public Pensions, The Real Story" will be the subject of a morning panel discussion at the New School and organized with Common Cause. The panel will review the history of pensions as well as their costs and benefits. Attending will be Richard Ravitch, Lillian Roberts and Teresa Ghilarducci.  NY1 News political anchor Errol Louis will moderate.

Census Department Director Robert Groves briefs the media at 2 p.m. about redistricting data and will cite "the new national mean center for population” as well as information about population distribution and race and ethnicity.

Weekly unemployment claims released at 8:30 a.m.  Economists expect claims to fall slightly. Last week, they decreased to 385,000.  The four-week average fell to 386,250 increase to 382,000 after falling to 368,000 last week.

FRIDAY, March 25

Third and final look at the nation’s GDP in the last three months of 2010.  The last report estimated U.S. economic growth at 2.8 percent.  Economists expect this will be revised upwards slightly to 2.9 percent due to companies building up their inventory and new data showing an increase in consumer pending. 

University of Michigan releases its second of two monthly surveys of consumer sentiment.  It fell sharply earlier this month after unrest in the Middle East sent oil prices up sharply. Consumer sentiment is closely tied to gasoline prices, and when those go up, sentiment goes down.  Now with prices high and worries about radiation from Japan, it’s expected the number will remain low.