As employers reduce payrolls to offset rising costs, claims for unemployment benefits are surging. Here's a look at this week's economic developments and how they may affect your business.

Leading Indicators Down

Rising jobless claims and falling stock prices drove down the index of leading economic indicators in June, the second straight month of declines, the Conference Board reported Monday.

Only four of ten index components improved last month, including new orders for manufactured goods and building permits, the New York-based research group said. The index, which gauges economic conditions for the months ahead, has fallen by 0.9 percent in the past six months.

The coincident index, a measure of present-day conditions, improved modestly in June, following declines the previous month.

Gas Prices Ease

Following months of steady increases, average gas prices across the nation dropped by nearly five cents last week to $4.064 per gallon, the Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday.

Prices were lower in every region except the Rocky Mountains, where they remained steady at $4.105 per gallon. The Midwest saw prices drop below $4 per gallon for the first time in nearly a month.

Jobless Claims Surge

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits jumped by 34,000 last week to 406,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate the previous week was unchanged at 2.3 percent, reflecting about 3.107 million people filing claims.

The biggest increase in new claims last week was reported in New York, California and North Carolina, while decreases were reported in Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the report said.