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Business & Financial

Interest Rates Expected To Decline

Dr. Constantine G. Soras, Economics Editor

T he latest economic reports show that the U.S. economy for 2000 was cooling off in its final stretch. On the bright side, inflation remains under control; the Federal Reserve signaled that it is ready to reverse course and is likely to lower interest rates as early as January 31.

The jobless rate inched up 0.1 percent to 4.0 percent in November. The rate has stayed in the 3.9 percent to 4.1 percent range for 14 consecutive months. The economy created 94,000 nonfarm jobs, while workers put in slightly fewer hours per week in November. Employment in the goods-producing sector barely changed for the second month in a row, but government employment declined by 54,000 jobs.

The Producer Price Index for finished goods edged up 0.1 percent in November, as energy price increases decelerated to a gain of 0.4 percent. The core index, however, which excludes food and energy prices, was unchanged in November, following a drop of 0.1 percent the previous month.

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.2 percent in November as energy prices remained virtually flat in November. The core inflation rose 0.3 percent, as tobacco prices surged.

From a year ago, overall consumer prices have moved up 3.4 percent, due to a 16-percent surge in energy prices, but the core inflation rate, at 2.6 percent, was marginally up from 2.4 percent in 1999.

BF_Graph_241

U.S. Trade Deficit Lower, Housing Starts Increase
ndustrial production fell for the second month, declining 0.2 percent in November, after falling 0.1 percent in October. Cold weather raised electricity and natural gas demand, sending utilities’ output up 3.6 percent, after a 2.0-percent drop in October. Factory output was down 0.5 percent.

The operating rate eased to 81.6 percent of capacity in November from 82.1 percent in October, dropping by 0.5 percent below its 1967-1999 average. The Federal Reserve revised data going back to 1992 on December 5.

Construction of new homes rose in November. Builders started work on 1.562 million units, up 2.2 percent from 1.528 million in October. Single-family units came down 0.4 percent, while multi-family units jumped 12.9 percent. Housing activity was mixed. Starts shot up 28.1 percent in the West to 429,000 units. Starts fell 1.9 percent in the Midwest to 314,000 units, declined 5.2 percent in the South to 680,000 units and took a 10.9 percent dive in the Northeast to 139,000 units.

The nation’s trade deficit narrowed to $33.18 billion in October, down from a record $33.74 billion in September. Exports declined 1.5 percent to $91.23 billion, while imports fell 1.6 percent to $124.42 billion.

Business sales fell 0.2 percent in October, after rising 0.3 percent the month before, while business inventories rose 0.6 percent in October. The September inventory-to-sales ratio inched up to 1.35 from 1.34.

Textile Shipments Up, Apparel Retailers Experience Gain In Sales
extile output eased 1.6 percent, following a decline of 0.5 percent in October. Textile operating rates fell to 79.2 percent from 80.4 percent in October, according to data revised back to 1992, which shows that the industry’s output in 1999 was 3.4 percent lower.

Shipments by textile manufacturers were up 0.2 percent in October, after plunging 1.5 percent the previous month. The inventory-to-sales ratio was unchanged at 1.57.

The industry’s payrolls slid 0.7 percent in November, after falling 0.8 percent the previous month. The jobless rate for textile mill workers edged up to 3.3 percent from 3.2 percent in October.

Retail sales declined 0.4 percent in November. Auto sales declined 2.2 percent, and general merchandise sales were down 0.2 percent. Spending on building materials was up 0.1 percent, while furniture, home furnishings and equipment sales surged 1.5 percent. Apparel and accessory stores saw gains of 0.8 percent in November and 0.4 percent in October.

Producer prices of textiles and apparel rose 0.3 percent in November, following a 0.2 percent increase in October. Prices shot up 2.0 percent for synthetic fibers, advanced 1.5 percent for gray fabrics, gained 0.6 percent for carpets, rose 0.3 percent for processed yarns and threads, and moved up 0.2 percent for home furnishings. Finally, prices weakened 0.2 percent for finished fabrics.

January 2001

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