Saturday, September 22, 2007

Economic Week in Review - Sept. 21, 2007

Investors cheer the Fed's bold move
Investors applauded a major rate-cutting move by the Fed this week, but some of the week's other economic news got a chillier reception. Economic indicators were down a bit, the housing outlook remained gloomy, and there was mixed news on the inflation front. The S&P 500 Index closed the week up 2.8%, at 1,526 (up 9.0% for the year). The yield of the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose 17 basis points to 4.63%.

Interest rates: The Fed takes action
In a move aimed at easing the credit crunch and shoring up confidence in the nation's near-term economic outlook, the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee (FOMC) cut both the target federal funds rate and the discount rate by half a percent, to 4.75% and 5.25%, respectively. The committee left the door open to more rate cuts in the months ahead, but acknowledged that it remains concerned about inflation pressures. Stock traders responded enthusiastically to the rate cuts, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the broader S&P 500 Index posting their biggest one-day gains in recent years.

A sharp decline in economic indicators
The Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators fell 0.6% in August, its steepest decline in almost two years. However, a significant upward revision to July's index helped level the longer-term trend. When viewed over an annualized six-month period, the growth rate remained in positive territory, at 1.0%. Analysts said the August slump was due mainly to turbulence in the stock market, declining consumer confidence, and weakness in the construction industry.

Prices dropped in August, but inflation remains a threat
A dip in energy costs helped rein in the growth in prices for consumers and producers during August. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell for the first time since last autumn, dropping 0.1%, in line with economists' expectations. Prices for finished goods, as measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI), dropped by a bigger-than-expected 1.4%. When volatile energy and food prices were factored out, however, both gauges were up 0.2% for the month. Over the past year, "core" CPI and PPI were up 2.1% and 2.2%, respectively.

Housing starts hit a 12-year low
There was no letup in bad news for the housing market in August. Residential construction starts fell 2.6%, to 1.33 million units, while permits for new housing—a key measure of expected future demand—fell 5.9%. Both figures represented the worst showing in 12 years for the beleaguered industry. One of the few bright spots was in the market for multifamily housing: Residences with five or more units posted a 16.5% increase in August, while single-family housing starts were down 7.1%.

The economic week ahead
Analysts will have a lot to think about in the final week of the third quarter. On the agenda are reports on gross domestic product (GDP), personal income, sales of new and existing homes, consumer confidence, advance durable-goods orders, and construction spending.

by: Cheryl Anderson
Stewart Title

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