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Economy in Brief

Chain Store Sales Dipped
by Tom Moeller March 9, 2004

The ICSC-UBS survey reported that chain store sales fell 0.3% last week following little change the week prior, a result that was revised down slightly. Sales have been lackluster for the last three weeks after a strong start in February.

During the last ten years there has been a 58% correlation between the year-to-year percent change in the ICSC-UBS measure of chain store sales and the change in non-auto retail sales less gasoline.

The ICSC-UBS retail chain-store sales index is constructed using the same-store sales reported by 78 stores of seven retailers: Dayton Hudson, Federated, Kmart, May, J.C. Penney, Sears and Wal-Mart.

ICSC-UBS (SA, 1977=100) 03/06/04 02/28/04 Y/Y 2003 2002 2001
Total Weekly Retail Chain Store Sales 436.6 437.8 7.0% 2.9% 3.6% 2.1%
Small Business Optimism Fell Again
by Tom Moeller March 9, 2004

The Small Business Optimism Index published by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) fell 3.0% in February following a 1.0% m/m decline in January.

The m/m decline reflected a sharp drop, to 33%, in the percent of firms expecting the economy to improve. As a result, the percentage of firms planning to raise employment fell to 13%, the lowest level since November. The percentage of firms planning to add to capital expenditures also fell to the lowest since November.

During the last ten years there has been a 47% correlation between the level of the NFIB index and the y/y change in real GDP.

The percent of owners raising average selling prices rose to 13%, the highest level since May 2001.

About 24 million businesses exist in the United States. Small business creates 80% of all new jobs in America.

Nat'l Federation of Independent Business Feb Jan Y/Y 2003 2002 2001
Small Business Optimism Index (1986=100) 102.6 105.8 6.8% 101.3 101.2 98.4
 Gasoline Prices Near Last Summer's Peak
by Tom Moeller March 9, 2004

Retail gasoline prices have risen steadily this year. Last week they settled at $1.74 per gallon versus an average price of $1.65 in February and $1.57 in January.

Wholesale natural gas prices opened the year strong but recently have fallen to $5.26/mmbtu (-32.9% y/y) as temperatures warmed.

Crude oil prices backed up through yesterday to $37.08 for West Texas Intermediate crude versus a low in late September below $27.00.

For the latest Short Term Energy Outlook from the US Department of Energy click here.

US Retail Gasoline Prices 03/08/04 12/29/03 Y/Y 2003 2002 2001
All Formulations ($/Gal.) $1.74 $1.48 1.5% $1.56 $1.34 $1.42
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