Week Ahead: Manufacturing, Housing Data on Tap

Regional manufacturing reports, housing data and a look at gross domestic product highlight next week's economic calendar in a period that will likely see low equity trading volume ahead of the Christmas holiday.

One of the most significant of the regional manufacturing reports is due Monday with the release of the Empire State Manufacturing Survey, conducted each month by the New York Federal Reserve. On Thursday, the Philadelphia Fed Survey is out and on Friday manufacturing surveys are set to be released by the Chicago and Kansas City Feds. All told, these reports provide a detailed picture of the manufacturing health within these regions.

Although the nature of manufacturing has changed in the U.S. in recent decades, the sector remains an important cog in the larger economy. Nowadays most U.S. manufacturing jobs are high-tech, whereas in past decades a lot of U.S. production focused on low-cost goods. Most of those jobs have moved overseas, however. Because many U.S. manufacturing jobs are now highly specialized and the products created are in high demand worldwide, the domestic manufacturing sector remained relatively healthy throughout the recent downturn.

The housing sector has shown signs of a rebound in recent months with prices rising in a number of cities and regions. The Federal Reserve specifically targeted housing earlier this year when introducing another round of stimulus bond buying.

The National Association of Home Builders will release its housing market index on Tuesday. The survey gauges the mood of NAHB members and offers a snapshot of where residential construction might be headed.

Data on housing starts is out Wednesday, offering another glimpse at the construction sector. A report on existing home sales is out Thursday, as is the Federal Housing Finance Agency's House Price Index. Both of these latter reports are expected to offer further evidence that demand is rising for single-family homes. The Fed has made low interest rates a centerpiece of its recovery policy since the recession of 2008-09. In theory, low interest rates -- specifically on mortgages -- will lead to lending and economic growth. On Thursday a report on GDP is out. GDP essentially sums up all domestic economic activity and the numbers have been disappointing for months, despite some signs of economic life in the housing and labor sectors. The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment survey is out on Friday. Consumer confidence rose last month to the highest point in four years and many economists are optimistic the trend will continue.