The Economy: Housing Starts Up; Unemployment Claims Decline
We have a slew of economic data out today and the big picture is that the economy is on the rebound. So, let's get to the numbers:
-- The Labor Department said the number of people seeking jobless benefits dropped by 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. The AP reports "it was the fourth drop in five weeks and the fewest number of claims since March 2008."
-- Led by a surge in apartments, housing starts were up 1.5 percent.
-- In January producer prices rose 0.1 percent.
Update at 8:45 a.m. ET. 'Strong Sign Of Improvement':
In its first pass at the story, The Wall Street Journal says the unemployment numbers signal a "strong sign of improvement" for the sluggish job market and the housing start number is positive but "not enough to signal that the housing sector is ready to recover from the worst downturn in decades."
The AP reports that one caveat in that housing starts number is that construction of single-family homes "cooled off slightly in January."
As for that rise in producer prices, the AP reports that's an important signal that inflation is under control. That in turn helps the Federal Reserve maintain its historically low short-term interest rate. The AP adds:
"Lower price growth also leaves more money in consumers' pockets, boosting their buying power. That would support more economic growth. The jump in gas and food prices early last year limited the ability of consumers to buy other goods, slowing the economy.
"Some economists worry that rising gas prices could act in a similar way again, dragging on growth. If turmoil worsened in the Middle East, for example, that could push oil and gas prices much higher."