CNN Financial News Producer
The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week to a three-month low. Initial filings for state jobless benefits fell 24,000 to 467,000 for the week ended Jan. 3. That’s the lowest level since the week ending Oct. 11, when claims were at 463,000. However, the number of people continuing to collect benefits rose by 101,000 to 4.61 million - the highest level since November 1982. The greatest number of layoffs were reported in Wisconsin, Missouri and Kansas. On Friday, we’ll get the government’s monthly employment report for December, and economists are expecting losses of more than 500,000 jobs.
If retailers were hoping for a respite from a protracted slump in monthly sales, it didn't happen in December. Most of the nation's major chains report a key monthly sales figure today, and the early results are clearly disappointing. Wal-Mart - the world's largest retailer –posted lower-than-expected December sales and cut its fourth-quarter profit forecast. Sears posted a more than 7% drop, while Gap saw sales tumble 14%. Macy’s, meanwhile, reported a 4% drop and said it will close 11 underperforming stores.
Stocks opened lower today as weak sales results from Wal-Mart and other retailers combined with jitters about Friday's big jobs report, sparking an early selloff.
Gas prices are up 3.5 cents to $1.762 a gallon - the 9th consecutive increase. The current national average is now $2.35 below the record high price of $4.114 that AAA reported on July 17, 2008. Two 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 ($2.531), while the cheapest is in Wyoming ($1.439)
Oil prices are down to around $41/barrel. Crude tumbled more than 12% Wednesday after a government report showed a bigger-than-expected surge in crude oil and gasoline stockpiles last week, reflecting the continued drop in demand. Prices have fallen more than $100 per barrel in the last six months.
Venezuela's Citgo Petroleum said Wednesday that it has reinstated a program that provides discounted home heating oil to lower-income residents in U.S. communities, one day after it was suspended.
And as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to move into the White House, real estate Website Zillow.com has calculated a value for the presidential residence were it actually a home that could be bought and sold. That estimated value - just over $308 million - would make it the most expensive residence in the United States. Were you to take out a standard 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage on the White House (assuming 20% down and a 6% rate), the monthly payment (including principal and interest) would be $1.48 million. So if Obama were to spend 30% of his gross income as president on housing, that would total $133,333 per year, or just over $11,000 per month - falling short by more than $1 million on the monthly payment.
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