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Economy in Brief

Gasoline Prices Up, Crude Oil Down
by Tom Moeller April 6, 2004

Retail gasoline prices rose last week to a record high level of $1.78 per gallon, the average US price for all formulations. That was versus an average price of $1.74 in March and an average $1.69 in March '03.

Crude oil prices dropped to $34.38 for West Texas Intermediate crude by the end of last week. Prices had surged into March to a high of $38.18.

Wholesale natural gas prices backed up during the last few weeks to $5.73/mmbtu (+13.0% y/y) yesterday from the lows near $5.38 averaged during February and March.

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

"Business Cycles: The Role of Energy Prices" from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is available here.

US Retail Gasoline Prices 04/05/04 12/29/03 Y/Y 2003 2002 2001
All Formulations ($/Gal.) $1.78 $1.48 9.2% $1.56 $1.34 $1.42
Chain Store Sales Tick Higher
by Tom Moeller April 6, 2004

Chain store sales ticked 0.3% higher last week following a 1.9% flop during the prior period, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC)-UBS survey.

For all of March sales fell 0.4% versus the February average.

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.

During the last ten years there has been a 51% correlation between the year-to-year percent change in the ICSC-UBS measure of chain store sales and consumer sentiment.

ICSC-UBS (SA, 1977=100) 04/03/04 03/27/04 Y/Y 2003 2002 2001
Total Weekly Retail Chain Store Sales 432.5 431.0 7.5% 2.9% 3.6% 2.1%
Challenger Layoffs Down Again
by Tom Moeller April 6, 2004

Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that announced job cuts fell 11.9% m/m following a 34.3% plunge in February. Layoffs in March were at the lowest level since last June.

The three month moving average of job cut announcements fell to 87,613 (-26.1% y/y). During the last ten years there has been an 83% (inverse) correlation between the three month average level of announced job cuts and the y/y percent change payroll employment.

The decline in layoffs was very mixed across industries. Large m/m declines in the automotive, entertainment, industrial goods, health care, food and electronics industries were partially offset by gains in the financial, pharmaceutical, chemical, energy, and government industries.

Job cut announcements differ from layoffs. Many are achieved through attrition, early retirement or just never occur.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas Mar Feb Y/Y 2003 2002 2001
Announced Job Cuts 68,034 77,250 -20.3% 1,236,426 1,431,052 1,956,876
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