Week Ahead: Housing and More Europe Watching

Housing data will dominate the economic reports released next week ahead of the Christmas holiday.

The National Association of Home Builders’ housing market index is out on Monday and is used as a gauge of home buying sentiment. The index isn’t expected to move from its November level.

The Commerce Department on Tuesday will issue its report on housing starts and permits. That number also isn’t expected to move much from November. On Thursday the Federal Housing Finance Agency releases its home price index.

Reports on existing home sales and new homes sales are due Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

Housing demand has been sluggish at best throughout 2011 as home values have dropped and prospective buyers wait to see how low prices can go. High unemployment and a generally poor economic outlook have kept all but a select group of high-end home buyers out of the market.

The ripple effect from that lack of demand has played a central role in derailing the economic recovery in the U.S.

Also due next week is the final reading of the Reuters/University Michigan Consumer Sentiment index. Out Thursday, the index is expected to show consumer sentiment is still at recessionary levels.

Jobless claims are due Thursday and will be closely watched for evidence that the 0.4 percentage point reduction in the U.S. unemployment rate in December wasn’t a fluke, caused by thousands of Americans simply dropping out of the job market out of frustration.

It’s a slim week for corporate earnings, led by quarterly reports from ConAgra (NYSE: CAG), Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), and Nike (NYSE: NKE).

And then there's Europe. Investors are still looking for signs that growing pressure from all sides – the U.S., Britain, global markets – will move German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Bank President Mario Draghi from their hardline approach toward a large rescue program for cash-starved European countries. Both are opposed.

All signs this week indicated neither Merkel nor Draghi has any intention of moving an inch.