Ongoing housing and stock market woes are pointing to weaker growth in the months ahead, while rising consumer prices are fueling fears of inflation. Here's a look at this week's economic developments and how they may affect your business.

Leading Indicators Decline

Stock and housing market woes drove down the index of leading economic indicators last month by 0.1 percent, the fourth straight month of declines, the Conference Board reported Thursday.

Only four of ten index components improved in January, including consumer expectations and real money supply, the New York-based private research group said. Those gains were offset by declines in stock prices, building permits and manufacturers' new orders.

The group's coincident index, a gauge of current economic conditions, advanced by 0.1 percent, led by personal income, real manufacturing and trade sales, and industrial production.

Consumer Prices Rising

Higher food and energy prices boosted overall consumer prices by 0.5 percent in January, sparking renewed fears of inflation, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.

Consumer prices were up by 4.3 percent from a year ago. Excluding food and energy prices, which rose by 0.7 percent, so-called core consumer prices rose by 0.3 percent last month. Amid the gains, prices for cars and trucks dropped by 0.3 percent.

In a recent survey of more than 1,800 small-business owners, 26 percent said they expected to raise prices in the months ahead, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, a Washington-based small-business lobby group.

Jobless Claims Down

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits dropped by 9,000 last week to 349,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The advanced seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate the previous week was unchanged at 2.1 percent, reflecting about 2.784 million people filing for jobless claims.

The sharpest declines in new claims last week were in Ohio, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, while increases were reported in California, Kentucky, and Illinois.