A huge—and misleading—economic number may be ahead

Wall Street is looking for a gargantuan economic reading this week. The big question is whether it matters.

Economists polled by Reuters are looking for durable goods orders to show a 5 percent increase, versus last month's 0.7 percent rise. However, economists think the increase is powered mostly by new orders from Boeing, which booked 324 orders in July, a single-month record for the company. Durables ex-transport, by comparison, are only expected to rise by 0.6 percent.

"It's all Boeing," said Robert Stein, an economist at First Trust Advisors and a known master of durable goods. "People shouldn't read too much into it, but it is important in the sense that Boeing orders show a general improvement in the economy. Airlines wouldn't be that optimistic about purchasing planes if they didn't think the economy was so good."

Read MoreHigher rates not bad for economy: Fed's Bullard

Stein actually expects an above-consensus increase of 17 percent. That would actually mark an all-time high for the data series (surpassing a 16.6 percent increase in June 2000). But as for his estimate of the ex-transportation number, Stein is looking for just 0.1 percent.

"I think it leads the economy a little bit, but the reading is obviously volatile, so you have to take it with a grain of salt," he said.

An employee works on the nose of a Boeing Co. 777 airplane at the company's facility in Everett, Washington.
Mike Kane | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An employee works on the nose of a Boeing Co. 777 airplane at the company's facility in Everett, Washington.

Jacob Oubina, senior economist at RBC, is similarly hesitant about reading too much from Boeing.

"It's obviously a good sign when a major aircraft manufacturer gets 300-plus orders in a month, but the fact that they're orders means that they could get canceled," Oubina told CNBC.com. Still, he notes that "you're looking at something close to $100 billion in Boeing orders, which is nothing to sneeze at. That's a lot of airplanes, a lot of money and it obviously will be a positive for the economy down the road. It just doesn't do much in the here and-now."

Read MoreThe biggest debate on Wall Street is heating up again

Still, traders are almost certain to look at an outsized number in the Tuesday report as a positive sign.

"Durables is the most important number we get next week," said Jim Iuorio of TJM Institutional Services. "The estimates are extremely high, and I know that people are going to say 'Oh, that's all predicting about airplanes and that's why,' but I think that matters.

"The airlines will be buying aircraft because they think they're going to use them," he added.

—By CNBC's Alex Rosenberg

Watch "Futures Now" Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 p.m. ET exclusively on FuturesNow.CNBC.com!

Contact Futures Now

  • Showtimes

    Watch Futures Now Tuesdays & Thursdays 1p ET exclusively on cnbc.com!

Sponsor Links

  • CME Group brings buyers and sellers together through its CME Globex electronic trading platform and trading facilities in New York and Chicago.

  • Take your trading to the next level with a platform that lets you trade stocks, options, futures and forex all in one place with no platform or data with no trade minimums. Open an account with TD Ameritrade and get up to $600 cash.