December 31st, 2008
01:19 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: Jobless claims drop

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/CRIME/12/31/recession.robberies/art.robbery.nypd.jpg caption="A surveillance camera captures a bank robbery suspect in New York on December 2."]

Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

We wrap up 2008 with a rare bit of unexpectedly positive news. The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits fell sharply last week as a year filled with layoffs draws to a close. Initial filings for state jobless benefits fell to 492,000 for the week ended Dec. 27, a decline of 94,000 from the prior week. It's the first time claims were below 500,000 since the week ended Nov. 1. But don’t pop the Champagne just yet… the number of unemployed that continue to draw benefits increased by 140,000 to 4.5 million. That’s the most since December 1982, when the country was emerging from a deep recession.

Stocks opened higher today as investors prepare for the New Year's holiday and react to a jobless claims report that was lower than expected. Wall Street is getting ready to close the books on the worst year for the Dow and the S&P 500 since 1931, and the worst year ever for the Nasdaq.

At 2:15 p.m. at the New York Stock Exchange, traders will gather on the floor and sing “Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie.” Traders have sung this song on Christmas Eve and on the last trading day of every year going back to the 1930’s. It’s a song of hope for better times ahead.

“Wait ‘Til the Sun Shines, Nellie.”
-Written in 1905 by Harry von Tilzer with lyrics by Andrew B Sterling.

Wait til the sun shines Nellie
When the clouds go drifting by
We will be happy Nellie
Don’t you cry
Down lover’s lane we’ll wander
Sweetheart You and I
Wait til the sun shines Nellie
By and By.

Perhaps it's yet another indication that the economy is bad: bank robberies are on the rise across the country. There was a string of four robberies in one day in San Diego last week. On Monday in New York City, five banks in four boroughs were robbed, and another NYC bank was robbed Tuesday morning. Some experts say it's well documented that during a recession, bank robberies go up. And this time of year is traditionally the busiest for bank robberies - making it a dangerous time for bank employees.

After 11 straight days of declines, gas prices are up 0.1 cent to $1.617 a gallon. The last time the national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded was near the current price was January 27, 2004, when it averaged at $1.617. 2 states have regular unleaded gas prices of $2 and higher. 48 states and the District of Columbia have regular unleaded gas prices below $2. The most expensive gas in Alaska ($2.564), while the cheapest is in Wyoming ($1.450)

And oil prices are below $39 a barrel - putting crude on pace for a 60% decline for 2008 as the global economic slowdown bit deep into energy demand. Crude oil hit an all-time high of more than $147 in July but prices collapsed in the last six months as the credit crisis has pushed the industrialized world into recession.

People from all around the country are helping to make tonight’s New Year’s Eve celebration in New York’s Times Square an energy-efficient bash. The “2009”’ sign that will light up when the ball drops will be powered by people pedaling bikes. All this month, New Yorkers and tourists alike have been pedaling on Duracell “snowmobikes.” The energy they generated has been stored in batteries and will be released at the stroke of Midnight. Even the new Times Square ball and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree have gone green. That’s today’s “Energy Fix.”

And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow to watch Penn State battle USC in the “Taxpayer Bailout Bowl,” or what’s known officially as the "Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi."

Happy New Year!

Filed under: Andrew Torgan • Economy • Finance
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    Even though the numbers dropped this week there are still far too many people without jobs. A 1 week drop means nothing to them and until we have drops in the total number of unemployed things aren't going to get any better.

    December 31, 2008 at 7:48 pm |
  2. mac

    wow, so people weren't fired and new claims were not made during the week of december 25th! wow, i wonder why?! What could possibly be the reason! that cannot be an actual statistic BTW, you can't factor Christmas week into that equation.

    December 31, 2008 at 3:14 pm |
  3. JC-Los Angeles

    The only reason the jobless claims have dropped is because all the companies that have jetisoned good, hard working employess are paying severance packages which cost less than unemployment.

    Our nation has been propped up by egregious interest rate cuts, 100% pure uncut American fraud and smoke and mirrors.

    The unemployment numbers are the latest skewed information to be bandied about.

    December 31, 2008 at 2:48 pm |
  4. Lisa

    Then there are those of us who are self-employed and don't qualify for unemployment benefits when our contracts end and we can't find work ...
    My bet is that claims will rise again in January.

    December 31, 2008 at 2:26 pm |
  5. Jim Gray

    I'm part of the 533,000 laid off in November 2008.

    December 31, 2008 at 1:50 pm |