The Positive -- And The Negative

By John S. McClenahen New U.S. government data show American consumers are spending more and business inventories are rising, both signs that the U.S. economic recovery from the 2001 recession is continuing. Retail sales in November were $322.4 billion, an increase of 0.9% from October, the U.S. Commerce Department reported Dec. 11. That's better than the 0.7% that economists generally anticipated. And in another positive sign for the recovering economy, business inventories are rising in response to consumer demand. At the end of October, they were at $1.183 trillion, up 0.4% from September's end of the month figure, according to separate Commerce Department figures also released Dec. 11. The month-to-month inventory rebuild rate was twice the 0.2% economists generally expected. Data on the U.S. labor market released on Dec. 11 were not similarly encouraging, however. For the second consecutive week, initial claims for unemployment insurance increased last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported. For the week ending Dec. 6, the seasonally adjusted number of initial claims was 378,000, some 13,000 more than the previous week's unrevised figure of 365,000. Economists had been looking for last week's number to fall to about 355,000. The Labor Department's four-week moving average for initial jobless benefit claims also rose last week, up 2,250 to 364,750.

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