It's an exciting time to follow the economy. Interest rates are on the tip of everyone's tongue, oil marches higher by the day, and Ben Bernanke is getting more face time than Lindsay Lohan. With all the blabber about recession vs. recovery, inflation vs. stagflation, Chuck Norris vs. the credit crisis, and bailout vs. bankruptcy, keeping track of the latest economic news can be a Herculean task.
Fear not, Fools. In this regular series, we're here to compress the week's economic developments into a simple-to-understand summary. And we promise to keep it completely free of the hieroglyphics and eight-syllable words that weasel their way into standard economic forecasts.
Here's the latest.
Rate cuts searching for a bottom
After the Federal Reserve's drastic attempt at giving the economy a shot in the arm, some think its rate-cutting campaign should begin winding down. Many, including a group of Federal Reserve officials, prominent Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, and a handfulofFools, have expressed concern over rapidly rising prices -- an often agonizing byproduct of lower interest rates.
While the federal funds rate -- 2.25% -- will very likely get another haircut when the Fed meets next week, the amount of relief lower rates can extend to the economy could be nearing an end. Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, for example, thinks rates are already low enough to keep economic growth humming along.
Relief in sight?
Despite record oil prices, mayhem in the financial sector, and a housing market that's slipping away, 2008 might not end up being a total loss.
David McCormick, a senior U.S. Treasury Department official, thinks the economic stimulus plan could jump-start the economy enough for it to show improvement in the second half of the year. "We will begin to see a slight improvement in the back half of 2008 and obviously carry that momentum in 2009. But make no mistake, [this is] a very challenging time for the economy," McCormick recently said.
Improvements in the credit market, thanks in part to Ben Bernanke's recent endeavor to unplug the banking logjam, could help stave off a severe economic slump by loosening the lending spigot and shoveling more capital into everyone's pockets. Cross your fingers.
I want my MPG
With nationwide gas prices inching closer to $4 a gallon, our pals in Washington appear bent on ensuring that America's incredible appetite for fuel stays in check.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters recently announced a set of plans to increase the average new vehicle's efficiency to 35 miles per gallon, or MPG, by 2020 -- up from the current 25 MPG average.
An early phase of the plan will mandate a fleetwide average of 31.6 MPG on all new vehicles by 2015. General Motors
While the plan will certainly do a number on growing gasoline bills, it's expected to tack on a pretty penny to a vehicle's cost -- an average of $650 for passenger cars and $979 for trucks by 2015.
Wanted: Your rebate
Starting next week, around 130 million Americans will begin receiving rebate checks from Uncle Sam as part of the economic stimulus plan. While a hefty chunk of the cash likely will be used for paying bills, paying off debt, and savings for a rainy day, a slew of retailers are salivating at the opportunity.
Employment's lookin' up
First-time jobless claims recently took an unexpected but welcomed dive. For the week ended April 19, the number of those filing for unemployment insurance for the first time fell by 33,000 to 342,000. Despite the drop, the four-week moving average of those continuing on unemployment insurance rose to 2.96 million -- the highest level in almost four years.
That's the latest for this week. Check back next Friday for a new economic roundup.
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