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Business & Financial
Dr. Constantine G. Soras, Economics Editor

Seventh Rate Reduction

Dr. Constantine G. Soras, Economics Editor

Job Decline Lowest In Ten Months

Economic weakness continues to be a concern, according to the latest government reports. In response, the Federal Reserve cut short-term interest rates by a quarter point. This is the seventh reduction this year and probably the last of the current business cycle.

Second-quarter economic activity came to a near halt, as consumer spending slowed and business investment in structures, equipment and software took a dive. Real GDP grew at an annual rate of 0.7 percent, after rising 1.3 percent in the first quarter. Consumer spending grew by 2.1 percent, after rising 3.0 percent in the first quarter. Business investment, which grew at double-digit rates for most of second half of the 1990s, plunged 13.6 percent in the second quarter — the sharpest drop since 1982. Spending by state and local governments surged 7.5 percent, while Federal government spending rose 1.6 percent. On the bright side, the business inventory draw-down of $26.9 billion, nearly matched the first quarter drop.

Private non-farm payrolls declined by 73,000 jobs in July. Factory payrolls went down by 49,000 jobs — the lowest decline in 10 months and less than half the drop of the last three months. Despite additions of 31,000 government jobs, total non-farm jobs declined by 42,000 in July, following losses of 93,000 in June. July’s jobless rate, however, held steady at 4.5 percent.

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Housing Starts Continue Rise; Gas, Energy Prices Drop

Mild weather in July led to a 0.5-percent drop in utilities output, while factory output was unchanged.

The July operating rate slipped to 77.0 percent of capacity.Housing starts remained a bright spot in the U.S. economy, rising 2.8 percent to 1.672 million units at an annual rate. Single-family units rose 1.5 percent to 1.304 million units.

The producer price index for finished goods declined 0.9 percent in July, led by a 5.8-percent fall in energy prices. This decline was the sharpest since August 1993. Gasoline prices took a 17.7-percent nosedive. The core index, which excludes food and energy, rose 0.2 percent.

Consumer prices declined 0.3 percent in July — the steepest monthly drop since April 1986. Energy prices dropped 5.6 percent. Food prices were up 0.3 percent, while apparel prices fell 0.6 percent. The core inflation rose 0.2 percent.

Industrial output eased 0.1 percent in July. A slowdown in losses indicates the long slide in industrial output may be approaching an end. Nevertheless, the strong dollar and weak economic activity overseas will continue to hold down factory output.

The U.S. trade deficit in goods and services widened to $29.41 billion in June. Exports declined 2.0 percent, while imports fell 0.7 percent to $115.36 billion.

Apparel Sales Increase; Synthetic Fiber Prices Rise

Producer prices for textiles and apparel slipped 0.1 percent in July. Prices rebounded 0.5 percent for synthetic fibers, rose 0.2 percent for carpets and inched up 0.1 percent for home furnishings. Prices declined 1.6 percent for greige fabrics, dropped 1.2 percent for processed yarns and threads, and edged down for finished fabrics.

The industry’s payrolls declined 1.4 percent in July, and the volatile jobless rate jumped to 9.1 percent from 6.7 percent in June.

Textile output fell 0.2 percent in July. The utilization rate for textiles edged up to 72.4 percent from 72.3 percent in June.

Sales by textile producers were off 0.3 percent in June, while inventories were slashed 0.7 percent. The inventory-to-sales ratio at 1.70 in June was virtually unchanged from May.

U.S. retail sales leveled off in July for the second month in a row. July’s motor vehicle sales fell 0.5 percent, after gaining 0.5 percent in June. Retail sales excluding autos were up 0.2 percent in July, and sales of building materials were slightly down last month.

Elsewhere, sales at furniture and home furnishings stores were up 0.4 percent. General merchandise stores rang up a 0.9 percent sales gain. At apparel and accessory stores, sales surged 0.9 percent in July.

September 2001


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