Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

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June 5, 2012

Slowdown short of recession seen for third year

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Demand is holding up at store chains. Retailers' same-store sales topped analysts' estimates in May. Sales at Minneapolis- based Target Corp., the second-largest U.S. discount retailer, climbed 4.4 percent. Framingham, Mass.-based TJX Cos., the owner of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, posted an 8 percent increase, reports showed last week.

While automobile sales slipped in May from April, they were still up 17 percent from a year earlier, according to Ward's Automotive Group.

Consumers are benefitting from easier credit terms as financial institutions seek to put the money they've earned to work. U.S. banks "eased standards on credit card, auto and other consumer loans," according to the Fed's quarterly survey of senior loan officers, released on April 30.

Investor nervousness over the world economy has pluses and minuses for U.S. households. On the negative side, it has pushed down stock prices, reducing household net worth. On the positive side, it has helped bring down gasoline prices and mortgage rates.

The average price of regular unleaded gasoline fell to $3.61 a gallon on May 31 from a 2012 high of $3.94 on April 5, according to AAA, the nation's largest motoring group, as oil demand ebbed with the slowing world economy. "We're benefitting from a global drop-off in commodity prices," said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP in Jersey City, N.J.

Rates for 30-year U.S. mortgages fell to a record as concern about Europe's financial crisis drove investors to the safety of the government bonds that guide borrowing costs. The average rate for a 30-year mortgage dropped to 3.75 percent in the week ended May 31 from 3.78 percent, according to Freddie Mac, the McLean, Virginia-based mortgage financier.

The drop in loan rates is aiding housing, the trigger for the worst recession since the Great Depression. Confidence among U.S. homebuilders jumped to a five-year high in May, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index showed.

Toll Brothers Inc. is among builders benefiting from the revival in demand. Second-quarter profit at the Horsham, Pennsylvania-based company exceeded analysts' estimates as orders surged 47 percent from a year earlier.

"While domestic and global headline risk remains a concern," Chairman Robert Toll said on a May 23 earnings call, "we are feeling better than we have at any time in the past five years."

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