Positive signs for U.S. recovery

In a recap of some of this week’s economic data heading into the holidays, there is reason for optimism as businesses round out the year:

  • Unemployment claims fell by 4,000 to 364,000 for the week ended Dec. 17, marking the fewest claims since April 2008.
  • Thompson Reuters/U. of Michigan consumer sentiment index hit 69.9 for December from 64.1 in November, marking a 6-month high.
  • Fuel prices are down to an average of $3.21 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline as of Dec. 20, its lowest level since February.
  • Housing starts jumped by 9.3% in November and the National Assoc. of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market index rose¬†in Dec. for the third straight month.

Thursday Morning Report: County budget projections; Small business funds wasted?; Friendly’s declares Chapter 11

There is very little I can say that would do justice to what Steve Jobs accomplished in life: he was an innovator, a creative genius, and he had a far-reaching effect on how the world works that will endure now in his stead – an effect that has been and will be so profound that we will not be able to properly gauge it for years to come. We shall merely say to Steve: thank you.

(For the text of Steve Jobs 2005 commencement address to Stanford University, see here).

Driving the day: The Wall Street Journal reports today that community banks may have misspent over $2.2 billion in federal funds that were meant to boost small business growth and instead went toward paying off what the banks owed in bailout funds (for the full story, see here). The WSJ says that 332 community banks received roughly $4 billion from the federal government under the Small Business Lending Fund that was intended to be lent directly to small businesses. However, at least 137 of those banks used at least a portion of what they were granted to pay off funds that were received under TARP.

Driving the Day, Part II: County Executive Rob Astorino unveiled his preliminary budget projections yesterday, saying that the county would likely be facing a $114 million shortfall between revenue and expenditures (with revenue increasing by just 1 percent to a 5 percent rise in expenditures). Astorino proposed a week-long furlough for all public employees of the county government and for union employees to contribute more to health care costs as means of closing the gap (see here for all the details). As part of his plan, Astorino vowed to not raise taxes and to work to avoid layoffs.

Outlook: Tomorrow, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release U.S. unemployment numbers for September. Economists are forecasting that employers added 59,000 workers to payrolls during Sept. and that unemployment held steady at 9.1 percent.

By the Numbers: 6,000 – Claims for unemployment benefits rose by 6,000 in the week ending Oct. 1 to a total of 401,000 – well below analysts’ predictions that the total would top 410,000.

Headlines:

> Friendly’s files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; to close 63 restaurants, keep 424 open (Reuters).

> Target Corp., Limited Sales Inc. beat September sales projections (Bloomberg).

> Don’t look now, but the Anti-Wall Street protests are growing and show no sign of weakening (Bloomberg).

Sports Blink: Three of the four MLB divisional series made it to decisive game 5’s. And who said baseball was boring? Lets go Yanks!