Consumer prices continued to rise last month, rekindling inflation fears, while snowy weather kept many shoppers at home. Here's a look at this week's economic developments and how they may impact your business.

Consumer Prices Up
Despite cheaper gas, consumer prices rose by an unexpected 0.2 percent in January following larger gains in December, the Labor Department reported on Wednesday.

Excluding food and energy, which dropped by 1.5 percent, so-called core prices rose 0.3 percent, the report said.

Consumers paid more for housing, apparel, and transportation last month, while food and recreation prices declined, the report said.

In the 12 months ending in January, consumer prices rose by 2.1 percent, the report said.

Leading Indicators Steady
Gains in consumer expectations kept the index of leading economic indicators growing by a modest 0.1 percent in January, the Conference Board reported Wednesday.

Four out of 10 components of the index improved last month, including real money supply, consumer expectations, weekly jobless claims, and stock prices, the New York-based private research group said.

On the downturn were manufacturing hours, building permits, manufacturers' new orders for capital and consumer goods, interest rate spread, and vendor performance, the report said.

The leading index, which gauges the strength of the economy in the months ahead, has grown by 0.7 percent over the six months ending in January, with gains offset by moderate losses in recent months, the report said.

The group's coincident index, which measures current economic activity, grew by 0.9 percent in January, led by gains in personal income, employee payrolls, and manufacturing sales, the report said.

Chain-Store Sales Down
Winter storms throughout much of the country dragged chain-store sales down by 0.1 percent in the week ending Feb. 17, the International Council of Shopping Centers reported on Wednesday.

Yet, compared to the same period last year, sales were up by 3.5 percent, the report said.

Despite last week's downturn, the group expects February sales to rise by 3 percent.

Help-Wanted Index Down
The number of job offers posted in newspapers nationwide declined in January, the Conference Board reported on Thursday.

Based on a survey of 51 major newspapers, the group's help-wanted index dropped two points to 32, compared to a reading of 34 in December and 38 in January 2006, the report said.

The index has expanded in eight of the past nine months, driven by strong gains in New England, among other regions, the report said.

Online job offers also declined in January, dropping by 6 percent from December to 3.141 million posted vacancies, the report said.

Jobless Claims Fall
New claims for unemployment benefits dropped by 27,000 to 332,000 in the week ending Feb. 17, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

The national insured unemployment rate the previous week was unchanged at 1.9 percent, the report said.

The biggest declines in new claims last week were in California, Kansas, and Virginia, the report said.