Prices Rise, Housing Falls, And Industrial Production Increases

By John S. McClenahen Still no reason for the Federal Open Market Committee to raise short-term U.S. interest rates at its scheduled May 7 meeting. That's the situation, following April 16's release of three closely watched economic reports. Driven primarily by rising energy prices, the Consumer Price Index, compiled by the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, rose 0.3% in March, following seasonally adjusted advances of 0.2% in January and February. Despite a 3.8% increase in energy prices, the March increase in the CPI was well below the consensus forecast of 0.5%. The so-called core-CPI -- which omits volatile energy and food price changes -- was up only 0.1% in March, half the expected 0.2% rise. Meanwhile, the hot U.S. housing market cooled in March, with starts on privately owned residential construction falling to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.646 million from February's revised estimate of 1.785 million. March's figure for starts was below the consensus forecast of 1.7 million. U.S. factories increased their output in March, their third consecutive monthly increase as industrial production -- which includes manufacturing, mining and utilities -- rose 0.7%. Manufacturing alone posted a 0.8% increase. For the first three months of 2002, U.S. industrial production increased at an annual rate of 2.5%, reports the Federal Reserve Board. Capacity utilization in manufacturing moved up in March, rising to 73.9% from 73.4% in February. For all industry -- manufacturing, mining and utilities -- capacity utilization was 75.4% in March, up from 74.9% in February, but well below its 1967-2001 average of 81.9%.

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