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Jobless benefit claims dip, while gas prices skyrocket

By Sun Advocate

The economic and employment situations in Utah appear to be improving.
But while fewer Utahns are filing claims for unemployment benefits, motorists at locations across the state are encountering rapidly escalating prices at the gas pumps.
Ending Feb. 8, the four-week average of initial unemployment insurance benefit claims filed at locations across Utah registered at 2,274, a decrease of 1 percent compared to last year.
The number of all unemployment insurance benefits claims filed during the week ending Feb. 8 totalled 2,463. Weeks claimed numbered 24,133, dropping by 10 percent compared to last year.
The number of new single-family home permits issued statewide climbed to 14,461 in 2002, the best showing in three years and a 4.4 percent increase compared to 2001.
In addition, the total value of residential construction climbed to $2.5 billion for an all-time high, indicated the University of Utah’s bureau of economic and business research.
The U.S. Energy Administration reported that America’s supplies of crude oil hit 28-year lows last week, while diesel-fuel prices reached a near-record high.
Gasoline prices are soaring as stockpiles dwindle and the threat of a United States war with Iraq looms, pointed out the Utah Department of Workforce Services latest Trendlines report.
Across the state, the price of regular unleaded, self-serve gasoline has hit $1.56 a gallon, representing a 15 cent increase from pump costs during January and 42 cents higher than a year ago.
Building on what Gov. Mike Leavitt calls the “Utah brand,” elected officials and business leaders plan to crisscross the world to plug the state’s products.
In addition to visits to a number of U.S. and Canadian cities, trips are charted during the next eight months to Greece, Italy, Belgium, Japan, Singapore and China. State officials have joined with more than 200 Utah businesses and 25 foreign delegates to sell the plan.
At the national level, the initial claims for unemployment aid fell by 18,000 to 377,000 for the week ending Feb. 8.
The four-week average increased slightly nationwide, climbing by 3,500 to 389,000, explained the Utah Department of Workforce Services’ Trendlines publication.
Uncertainties about a war with Iraq represent the biggest cloud hanging over the nation’s struggling economy, noted U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
American consumers have been keeping the U.S. economy going. But businesses operating at locations throughout the nation – worried about the war and economic uncertainties – have been reluctant to make significant commitments in capital investment and hiring, forces restraining the recovery.
On the positive side of the spectrum, industrial production rose nationwide in January as the manufacturing sector showed signs of renewed strength amid a sluggish economy, explained the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Production climbed 0.7 percent after falling 0.4 percent in December. Capacity utilization inched up to 75.7 percent from 75.2 percent.
U.S. businesses stockpiled goods and merchandise at a faster than expected pace in December as sales moved forward tepidly, confirmed the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Inventories at retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers grew 0.6 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted $1.143 trillion after a rise of 0.3 percent one month earlier.
The nation’s persistent economic slump and rash of corporate scandals that have drained cash from pension plans and 401(k) accounts are eating into yet another piece of retirees’ livelihood: health benefits.
Thousands of retired workers who were promised lifetime health care coverage by former companies have lost the benefits as a growing list of firms have folded or been sold.
While 108 venture capital funds raised a total of $6.9 billion during 2002, another 26 funds refunded $5 billion to investors.
According to data compiled by Thomson Venture Economics for the National Venture Capital Association, the net fundraising total of $1.9 billion represented the smallest inflow of venture capital since $1.6 billion flowed into the industry in 1981.
A growing consumer trend toward making electronic payments will close five U.S. Federal Reserve check-processing centers. The number of checks has declined from nearly 50 billion in 1995 to roughly 40 billion in 2002, reported the U.S. Federal Reserve. In contrast, electronic payments nearly doubled between 1995 and 2000, to nearly $29 billion. U.S. retail sales fell more than expected in January, pulled down by plummeting auto sales, but outside that category business at retailers posted the fastest gain in over two years. The U.S. Commerce Department confirmed that retail sales fell 0.9 percent nationwide in January after posting a 2 percent increase in December.
Accounting for approximately two-thirds of the related activity throughout the U.S., consumer spending has been one of the few pillars holding up the nation’s economy.
Outstanding U.S. consumer credit dropped sharply in December. Consumer debt posted a second straight decline in December and capped the slowest year for credit growth in a decade, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve .
The sharp December drop limited consumer debt growth in 2002 to 3.3 percent, the smallest increase since 1992, concluded the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

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