New jobless claims down, remain at record level overall - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

New jobless claims down, remain at record level overall

SPOKANE, Wash. - There have been some positive signs when it comes to the economy lately.

It's good news that is desperately needed, but not nearly enough of a trend to bounce out of the crippling recession.

"We are seeing some signs of improvement, they're modest and i think that that's really the watch word that we need to focus on because we are still in a recession, the economy is still contracting," says Morgan Stanley chief U.S. economist Dick Berner.

While Wal-Mart didn't have the sales expected in March, the retailer was still up 1.4 percent from last year.

Sales at Target and Old Navy were down, but not nearly as much as predicted.

The bottom line: Retail is still soft, but it appears to be at least stabilizing, and in some cases even improving a bit.

"I think there are some positive take aways here over the past few months on the consumer front," says JP Morgan retail analyst Charles Grom.

There also appears to be a glimmer of hope in the battered housing market.

Refinancing jumped by 88% last month, thanks in large part to record low mortgage rates and a new federal assistance plan.

President Obama said today "We've seen Fannie Mae refinance $77 billion of mortgages in March, which is their highest volume in one month since 2003 and rates on 30-year mortgages have dropped to an all-time low of 4.78 percent."

There are staggering reminders that the economy is still reeling; Foreclosures are close to all-time highs and many Americans are losing their homes because they've lost their jobs.

While the jobless rate dropped slightly last week, 5.84 million Americans are currently receiving unemployment payments.

That new number is higher than expected, and higher than anytime since the late 1960's.

Meantime, workers may be getting some good economic news in their paychecks.

The Obama Administration's "Making Work Pay" tax credit is starting to kick in.

That which means a bigger bottom line, up to $400 a year for working individuals, and $800 a year for married joint filers.
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