Five Things to Watch: Oil, Real Estate & More

The stock market is barely budgingas investors brace for earnings season but there is plenty happening in the oil and real estate markets. And don’t forget the market for really hard assets — diamonds.

Oil Slips: After a seemingly inexorable rise, crude oil prices fell sharply, off nearly 4 percent Monday. There are two reasons for this: the International Monetary Fund cutting its growth forecasts for the U.S. and Japan, plus reports that Libya’s Gaddafi has accepted some sort of plan to end the violence there. If oil continues to slide based on hopes of less turbulence in the Middle East, that’s good news. If oil falls because the economy is sputtering, that’s not so good.

Road Warriors: Speaking of the impact of high oil prices, business travel has been rebounding nicely, but will that last? The Global Business Travel Association will release its annual outlook Tuesday morning and we’ll get our clearest picture yet of whether companies are reinvesting in travel, and if so, how much. More business travel is usually a good indicator for higher employment.

Revenge of the Pink Panther: A 10-carat, vivid purple-pink diamond is being sold at Christie’s in New York and is expected to fetch more than $12 million. Three hundred other jewels and precious gems are also up for sale and the price they fetch will tell you a lot about the strength of the economic recovery. Or, as Inspector Clouseau would say, “There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.”

Clicks to Bricks: Traffic on real estate web sites is soaring, giving hope to many that the spring housing market will have a little extra bounce. Of course, traffic in sites focusing on rentals is showing a big jump as well. Bottom line: Everyone likes to look at houses, not everyone can afford to buy them — or get loans to buy houses.

Small Business Looms Large: The National Federation of Independent Businesses will deliver its monthly read on just how optimistic small business owners are feeling these days. Wall Street watches this number very closely because small businesses have generated nearly two out of every three new jobs in the US in the past 15 years. So, as small business goes, so goes the economy and the employment picture. Watch for the NFIB report during Squawk Box.