Colder weather kept consumers at home in March, even as a robust job market brightened their outlook on the economy. Here's a look at this week's economic developments and how they may impact your business.

Consumer Mood Brightens

Renewed strengths in the economy had consumers in a better mood in March, according to the Conference Board, a private research firm based in New York.

The board's monthly consumer-conference index, based on a survey of some 5,000 U.S. households, rose to a four-year high of 107.2, up from 102.7 in February, the board reported Tuesday.

Also on the rise was the present-situation index, to 133.3 from 130.3, and the expectations index, to 89.9 from 84.2, the report showed.

Some 28.3% of households polled described current economic conditions as good, up from 26.4% the previous month -- about the same amount that said jobs were "plentiful."

While the gains suggest economic growth has picked up, consumer expectations "remain subdued and still suggest a cooling in activity in the latter half of this year," said Lynn Franco, of the board's Consumer Research Center.

Sales, Jobless Claims Down

The brighter outlook didn't boost consumer spending, a separate report showed Tuesday. In the week ending March 25, retail sales were down by 1.6%, the second straight week of declines, according to a report from the International Council of Shopping Centers and UBS Securities.

The declines were blamed on colder weather, the report said.

Over the same week, new claims for unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 from the previous week to 302,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The largest increased in new claims were in Wisconsin, Missouri, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, the report said.

Economy Slowed in 2005

The pace of growth in the U.S. economy slowed dramatically in the fourth quarter of 2005, dropping to a three-year low of 1.7% from 4.1% over the previous quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

The declines followed weaker consumer and federal spending, and a rise in imports, the department said. These were partly offset by a 1.89% upswing in inventory investment by manufacturers and other businesses worth some $37.9 billion, according to the report.

Over the entire year, personal income grew by 4.6% nationwide, compared to 5% in 2004, the department said in separate report Tuesday.

While growth rates in most states were close to the national average, income in storm-ravaged Louisiana dropped by 9.1%, or $26.8 billion, the department said.

By contrast, an upturn in activity in Wyoming's mining industry saw personal income jump by 7.3%, faster than any other sate, the report showed.