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State of The Economy Update ~ National and Arizona

Americans are borrowing more, with consumer credit shooting up in March to an annual rate of 10.2 percent, the Federal Reserve reported last week. Total consumer borrowing amounted to $2.54 trillion for the month, representing a $21.36 billion gain over the previous month.

Revolving debt, such as credit card debt, amounted to $803.6 trillion in comparison to February’s $798.5 trillion, and grew by an annual rate of 7.8 percent. Non-revolving debt, such as student loans and car loans, totaled $1.738 trillion, in comparison to February’s $1.722 trillion, and grew by an annual rate of 11.3 percent for the month.

The question is whether or not the gains represented increased economic activity and confidence.

“The optimistic read is that consumers’ improved outlook on the economy and employment prospects led them to feel comfortable spending on credit, while a more downbeat interpretation is that credit is needed for consumers to keep up,” analysts at Nomura Global Economics remarked in a public statement regarding the Fed’s data.

In employment news, initial jobless claims for the week ending May 5 dipped to 367,000, a decrease of 1,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 368,000, the Employment and Training Administration reported last week. The four-week moving average was 379,000, a decrease of 5,250 from the previous week’s revised average of 384,250.

The Administration also reported that the total number of unemployed workers covered by insurance during the week ending April 28 dropped to 3,229,000, a decrease of 61,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3,290,000. The four-week moving average was 3,290,000, a decrease of 10,500 from the preceding week’s revised average of 3,300,500.

In the Arizona Economy, the outlook is a bit more favorable. Employment gains in Arizona should continue at a pace of around 2.0% for now. Sales tax collections will improve moderately as the year progresses as will other government tax revenues.

U.S. Needs Jobs First And Home Sales Will Follow

The healthier job market that’s lifted the U.S. economy in recent months shows no signs of slowing.

Applications for unemployment benefits are near a four-year low, raising expectations of further hiring gains. The news Thursday helped lift the Dow Jones industrial average to its highest close since May 2008.

More jobs and tame inflation are giving consumers more buying power. Their higher spending could further boost growth and lower the unemployment rate for February for a sixth-consecutive month.

Even the troubled housing market is benefiting. Builders expect improved sales in the near future. In response, they’re planning to break ground on more homes.

“The housing starts and unemployment claims numbers add to the belief that the economy is shifting gears,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisers. “The decline in the unemployment rate is real, and it should continue.”

A series of positive economic reports Thursday reinforced that message:

Weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the Labor Department said. That’s the lowest since March 2008. Unemployment applications have dropped 11 percent in four months.

Builders broke ground in January at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 699,000 homes, the Commerce Department said. That nearly matches November’s three-year high. Single-family home construction cooled off slightly after a big jump in December.

Factory activity in the Philadelphia region grew in February at the fastest pace in five months, a survey by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank found. That followed a report that showed a third-consecutive month of factory growth in the New York region.

Wholesale prices were largely unchanged in January, Commerce said. While gasoline prices are rising, they’ve been offset by falling costs for electricity, home heating oil and natural gas. Most economists see inflation as little threat.

Many analysts expect more good news in next month’s jobs report for February. Some say the net job gains could match or top January’s 243,000. For the past three months, the economy has gained an average of about 200,000 jobs.

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