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This Week's Economic Roundup

Confidence among business owners ties record low; consumers also shaky on subprime mortgage news.
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Nagging cash-flow problems are putting the nation's small-business owners in a bad mood, while consumers are growing more concerned with the labor market. Here's a look at this week's economic developments and how they may affect your business.

Business Owners Less Optimistic

After rebounding in July, small-business owners in August were less optimistic about the economic outlook, driven down by cash-flow issues, Discover reported Monday.

In a survey of 1,000 small business owners nationwide, 36 percent said they felt economic conditions for their businesses were getting better, down from 41 percent in July, while 41 percent said they've experienced more cash-flow issues in the past three months, up from 35 percent.

As a result, fewer owners in August were planning to spend on business development in the months ahead, the survey found.

All told, Discover's monthly small-business confidence index dropped nearly five points to 102.4, matching record-low results in June.

"While small-business owners' feelings regarding the overall economy remain steady, they are far less optimistic about the economic conditions for their own business," Sastry Rachakonda, the director of Discover's small business card, said in a statement.

Consumer Confidence Drops

Growing concerns over business and labor market conditions in August dragged consumer confidence down by the sharpest decline since Hurricane Katrina, the Conference Board reported Tuesday.

Based on a survey of 5,000 households nationwide, the New York-based private research group's consumer confidence index dropped to 105 from 111.9 in July. Both the present situation and expectations components of the index declined in August.

"The volatility in financial markets and continued subprime housing woes may have played a role in dampening consumers' spirits," Lynn Franco, the group's consumer research director, said in a statement.

Employers Post Fewer Job Listings

Continuing a three-month decline, employers posted fewer help-wanted ads in major U.S. newspapers and online in July, signaling slower job growth in the months ahead, the Conference Board reported Thursday.

Help-wanted ads in newspapers have declined steadily across the country in recent months, including a 17.4 percent drop in the West North Central region, according to the New York-based private research group. In July, online job ads dipped by 196,000 to just over 4.08 million.

"Both economy and the job market could be growing a little more slowly in the fourth quarter, but not slowing dramatically," Ken Goldstein, the group's labor economist, said in a statement.  

Home Sales Hold Steady

The subprime mortgage crisis drove existing-home sales down by 0.2 percent in July, with gains in the West and Northeast offset by sharp declines in the Midwest, the National Association of Realtors reported Monday.

The median price for existing homes fell by 0.6 percent to $228,900, while inventories rising by 5.1 percent with 4.59 million homes on the market at the end of the month -- more than a nine-month supply at the current sales pace.

"Some buyers with contracts have been scrambling when loan commitments did not materialize at the last moment, while other potential buyers are simply waiting for the mortgage market to stabilize," Lawrence Yun, the trade group's senior economist, said in a statement.

Gas Prices Drop

After a brief upswing, average gas prices fell by 3.6 cents last week to $2.74.9 per gallon, the Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday.

Cheaper prices were reported in every region, including a 7.1 cent decline in California to $2.791 per gallon.

Average gas prices are now 9.6 cents lower than during the same period last year.

Jobless Claims Surge

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits jumped by 9,000 last week to 334,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Gains this month boosted the insured unemployment rate to 2 percent in the week ending Aug. 18, up from 1.9 percent the previous week, with 2.549 million people filing claims.

The biggest increases last week were in Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina, while the biggest declines were in California, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico.

Last updated: Aug 30, 2007




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