CNN Financial News Producer
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says that the economy is about to start growing again, although he cautioned it will be a slow recovery with continued high unemployment in the near term.
Speaking at an annual symposium in Jackson Hole, WY, Bernanke echoed a statement made by the Fed earlier this month, saying that "economic activity appears to be leveling out, both in the United States and abroad."
Bernanke went a step further though, indicating that "prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good."
But the central bank chief warned that problems remain in financial markets around the globe, and that with banks facing "substantial" additional losses ahead, businesses and consumers will continue to have trouble accessing credit.
Home sales spike
Sales of previously-owned homes, the biggest portion of the housing market, soared more than 7% in July - the largest monthly increase in 10 years.
The National Association of Realtors says home sales rose 7.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.24 million last month, from a pace of 4.89 million in June. That’s the fourth-straight monthly increase and the highest level of sales since August 2007.
Of course, homes should be selling. Prices have fallen more than 32% from their peaks, set in the summer of 2006. Plus, mortgage rates that are near historic lows make the cost of purchasing a home lower than they've been in nearly 20 years.
State unemployment rates improve
The number of states posting a decrease in the unemployment rate in July more than tripled from the previous month.
The Labor Dept. says 17 states and the District of Columbia reported a drop in unemployment rates in July, compared with 5 states in June. Increases in unemployment rates were reported in 26 states, and 7 states posted no change from the previous month.
While the report showed improvement for the battered labor market, the changes in unemployment rates were very modest across the board: overall, unemployment rates didn't change much from June to July.
Michigan had the highest unemployment rate at 15%, but that was down 0.2 percentage point from June. Michigan has been especially hard hit by the collapse of the U.S. auto industry and the housing meltdown.
Rhode Island posted the second highest unemployment rate at 12.7% and Nevada rounded out the top three with a 12.5% rate.
The national unemployment rate fell to 9.4% from 9.5% in June, the first decline in that reading since April 2008.
Oil surges to 10-month high
Oil prices soared to their highest level since October today as investors grow hopeful that a recovery of the world economy is in sight.
Crude topped $74 per barrel. Oil hasn't traded that high since Oct. 20, 2008, when it reached an intra-day peak of $76.12.
All told, oil has surged by two-thirds this year after closing out 2008 at $44.60 per barrel.
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