Week Ahead: Spotlight on Bernanke in Jackson Hole

It's a relatively light calendar for economic data next week, perhaps offering a breather to harried investors.

A deluge of bad economic news this week sent stock markets on a roller coaster, soaring up and down (mostly down) as traders tried to gauge the impact of another possible recession.

A lot of attention will be focused on a speech scheduled for Friday by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke at an annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo., hosted by the Kansas City Fed.

Its anyones guess what, if anything, new Bernanke has to say about the direction of the U.S. economy and the Feds ability to impact that direction. On Aug. 9, the Fed said it plans to keep interest rates at extraordinarily low levels at least until mid-2013.

Its also unclear, given the current political climate as well as widespread skepticism over the success of earlier Fed measures, what other options the Fed has at its disposal.

Before Bernankes speech investors can digest data on new home sales due Tuesday. The numbers are expected to be weak, as the housing market has remained consistently sluggish since the real estate bubble burst in 2008.

A report on durable goods is due Wednesday. Analysts believe the July report will show some improvement over dreadful June numbers. The data is viewed as a good gauge of business investment.

A second reading on second-quarter GDP, scheduled for release Friday, is expected to put numbers to the strong belief that the economy is slowing. Economists this week lined up to issue reports slashing growth expectations for the rest of the year.

The Richmond Federal Reserve manufacturing survey is due Tuesday and the Kansas City Federal Reserves survey will be released on Thursday. Theres little reason to believe either will be markedly better than a similar regional manufacturing report issued this week by the Philadelphia Fed, which was awful.

The final reading of the Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index is due on Friday. Consumer confidence has melted in recent months as unemployment has remained high and the value of homes continues to plummet.

Data on mass layoff activity for July is due Tuesday, while initial jobless claims for the week ended August 20 are due Thursday.