New Economic Data Offer No Reason To Raise U.S. Interest Rates

By John S. McClenahen The three most recent sets of U.S. economic data lead to a single conclusion: The Federal Open Market Committee has no reason to raise U.S. short-term interest rates when it meets at month's end. Retail sales in May fell to $297 billion in May, a 0.9% decrease, significantly more than the 0.2% decline from April that most economists had expected. Hardware store, department store and gas station sales all were lower in May. The U.S. Labor Department's Producer Price Index (PPI), an important measure of inflation, fell 0.4% in May, defying economists' expectations of a 0.1% increase from April. "There is just no inflation," asserts Gerald D. Cohen, a senior economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York. "Pricing was weak across the board [in May], with core consumer prices unchanged." The so-called core PPI excludes prices in the relatively volatile food and energy sectors of the U.S. economy. Finally, initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to 390,000 for the week ending June 8, an increase of 6,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 384,000, reports the U.S. Labor Department's Employment & Training Administration. Initial jobless claims have been under 400,000 for only two weeks, and that's not a convincing signal of a broad-based pick-up in hiring.

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