CNN Financial News Producer
New claims for unemployment benefits dropped slightly last week, but remain near a 26-year high as companies lay off workers amid a deepening recession.
The number of first-time applications for jobless benefits dropped by 8,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 623,000. And the number of people continuing to claim benefits for more than one week rose to 4.81 million - once again the highest total since the government began keeping records back in 1967.
The frantic pace of foreclosures eased somewhat in January.
Foreclosure filings - which include default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions - were reported on more than 274,000 properties last month, down 10% from December. But that was still 18% higher than January 2008. Lenders also repossessed nearly 67,000 homes.
Much of the decline can be attributed to foreclosure moratoriums imposed by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as other lenders and some states.
Home prices fell more than 12% in 2008, the largest yearly decline since the National Association of Realtors began keeping comprehensive records in 1979.
The median price for a home in the U.S. sold during the fourth quarter of 2008 fell to $180,100, down from $205,700 during the last quarter of 2007.
Distressed properties - the foreclosures and short sales that have flooded the market - accounted for 45% of all deals. That drove sales volumes up in Nevada, California and other states hit hard by foreclosures, but such heavily discounted homes also pushed median prices down.
The government says retail sales jumped 1% in January, putting an end to a six straight months of declines and defying economists' expectations by posting the biggest increase in 14 months. Strong increases were seen in sales of automobiles and at general merchandise stores - the so-called "big box" outlets like Wal-Mart - although sales at department stores posted a decline.
Retail experts were quick to dismiss the rebound, however, given the dismal numbers that many individual chains posted last month. On analyst tells CNN he wouldn't be surprised if January's sales increases were revised lower next month.
Stocks fell by triple digits out of the starting gate Thursday as investors worried about the government's plans to temper the impact of the recession and that report showing home prices fell to a 30-year low.
Gas prices rose 1.2 cents overnight to $1.952 a gallon. That’s the 15th consecutive increase. 13 states have regular unleaded gas prices of $2 and higher. 37 states and the District of Columbia have regular unleaded gas prices below $2. The highest gas prices are in Alaska ($2.515). The cheapest gas prices are in Wyoming ($1.680)
Finally, saving more money and cutting your debt might sound like a good plan to deal with the ongoing recession. But if everyone does that, it'll only make matters worse. Find out why at CNNMoney.com.
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