The Week Ahead

      Tuesday, Mar. 25 -- The Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve 
      Board will meet to set monetary policy for the next six weeks. A slight 
      majority of economists surveyed by MMS International, one of The McGraw-Hill 
      Companies, thinks the policymakers will keep short-term interest rates 
      unchanged, leaving the federal funds rate at 5.25%. However, almost all 
      economists surveyed by MMS expect a rate hike by the May 20 meeting, as solid 
      economic growth, tight labor markets, and nascent cost pressures raise 
      inflation prospects. The Fed has not moved rates since January, 1996, when it 
      cut the fed funds rate a quarter point.
      Tuesday, Mar. 25, 10 a.m.EST -- Existing home sales probably increased 
      slightly, to an annual rate of 3.95 million in February, after rising 2.1%, to 
      3.94 million, in January. Although bond yields are rising, mortgage rates have 
      not increased enough to choke off housing demand.
      Tuesday, Mar. 25, 10 a.m.EST -- The Conference Board's index of consumer 
      sentiment probably fell only a bit in March, to a reading of 118, from 118.4 in 
      February. The big surprise in the February data came in the present-situation 
      index, which rose from 141.2 to 143.4, a 27-year high.
      Wednesday, Mar. 26, 8:30 a.m.EST -- The MMS survey expects that new orders 
      taken by durable-goods manufacturers likely dropped 0.3% in February, following 
      a 4% increase in January. The backlog of unfilled orders was probably unchanged 
      in February after rising 1%.
      Friday, Mar. 28, 10 a.m.EST -- New single-family homes probably sold at an 
      annual rate of 860,000 in February. The housing market in January surprised 
      almost everyone: New home sales jumped 8.6%, to an 870,000 pace, so some 
      fallback is expected in February.