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The Economy This Week

Mortgage woes send home sales tumbling; gas prices rise in every region.
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Mortgage woes have continued to rattle the housing market, while the job market is showing signs of renewed strength. Here's a look at this week's economic developments and how they may affect your business.

More Jobs Advertised

Following declines in recent months, U.S. employers ran slightly more job ads in major newspapers across the country in September, the Conference Board reported Thursday.

Based on a survey of major newspapers in every region, the New York-based private research group's help-wanted index inched up to 24 last month from 23 in August, but five points below the same period last year.

Over the last three months, job ads have fallen in nearly every region, including a 12 percent decline in New England and a 10.8 percent decline in the East North Central area, according to the New York-based private research group.

"The latest numbers on the job market suggest it was slower this summer than earlier this year, but not losing more steam heading into the fall and winter months," Ken Goldstein, the group's labor economist, said in a statement. "Simply put, the labor market is slow, but not slowing."

On the upside, online job ads rose 4 percent from August to 4.27 million, with 2.78 advertised vacancies for every 100 persons in the labor market.

Existing-Home Sales Plummet

Mortgage problems drove sales of existing homes down 8 percent in September to an annual rate of 5.04 million, while inventories soared to a 20-year high, the National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday.

Existing-home sales were down 19.1 percent from the same period last year. By month's end, there were 4.4 million existing homes left on the market, enough for a 10.5-month supply at the current sales pace.

"Mortgage problems were peaking back in August when many of the September closings were being negotiated, and that slowed sales notably in higher priced areas that rely more on jumbo loans," Lawrence Yun, the group's chief economist, said in a statement.

Despite the ongoing declines, prices in the Northeast and Midwest continued to rise modestly, though the national median price dropped 4.2 percent below the same period last year to $211,700.

Yun said mortgage availability has improved in recent weeks and expects sales to pick up in the months ahead.

By contrast, new home sales rose 4.8 percent in September to annual rate of 770,000, 23.3 percent lower than a year ago, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

The median price for new homes last month was $238,000, with enough homes for an 8.3-month supply at the current sales pace.  

Durable-Goods Orders Fall

Led by weak demand for transportation equipment and defense aircraft, durable good orders in September dropped by $3.8 billion, or 1.7 percent, to $214.5 billion, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Excluding transportation orders, durable goods orders rose 0.3 percent.

Overall, shipments of durable goods were down 2 percent, while inventories rose 0.4 percent to $313.9 billion, the sharpest gain in over 20 years, the report said.

Gas Prices Rising

Average gas prices surged by 6.1 cents last week to $2.823 per gallon, 61.5 cents higher than the same period last year, the Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday.

Higher prices were reported in every region, including an 8.6 cent increase to $3.065 per gallon in the West Coast, the highest regional prices in the country. Prices in California rose 9 cents to $3.143 per gallon, the report said.

Jobless Claims Fall

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell by 8,000 to last week to 331,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The advance insured unemployment rate the previous week was unchanged at 1.9 percent, with 2.530 million people filing jobless claims, the report said.

The largest decreases in new claims last week were in California, Kentucky, and Missouri, while the largest increases were in Michigan, Ohio, and Maryland. 

Last updated: Oct 25, 2007




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