March 31st, 2010
04:39 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: Clear as mud

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/money/2010/03/30/pf/taxes/homebuyers_last_chance/sf_house_sold.gi.top.jpg
caption="In February, President Obama unveiled the Hardest Hit Fund, which pumped $1.5 billion into state housing agencies."]

Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

In the words of every crabby kid wedged in the backseat of a station wagon between a suitcase and his little sister, “Are we there yet?”

Bad news buddy… Dad’s lost and the GPS is busted.

Wall Street this week is a study in hits, misses and rare twists in timing. Readings on income and spending, consumer confidence, housing and a spate of job reports dot the economic calendar, but a clear picture of the economy has yet to emerge.

Consumer confidence, for example, bounced back sharply this month – but only to a level that shows people are just less pessimistic about the economy and the job market.

Those numbers came on the heels of a separate report showing personal spending rose for a fifth straight month in February. As consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, this should be good news, right? Yes, but the increase was so small (0.3%) that’s it’s hardly worth celebrating.

Then we got the latest snapshot of the housing market, which essentially dashed any hopes for a sustained early recovery.

After a five-month run-up in home prices starting last spring, prices have now fallen for four consecutive months, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Prices in January were down 0.4% compared with December and have fallen 0.7% from a year ago.

And today, the first of several employment reports hit the wires.

Payroll-processing firm ADP said private-sector employers cut payrolls by 23,000 jobs in March. That was far less than the gain of 40,000 jobs that was expected - although it was the smallest monthly decline since February 2008.

This comes just two days ahead of the government’s official jobs report for March, which is due out Friday morning. The expectation there is for a gain of about 190.000 jobs, which would be the biggest gain in three years.

Friday is also Good Friday and the stock market will be closed, so investors will have to wait until the opening bell Monday to react to the Labor Department’s numbers.

Housing aid on the way for 5 more states

Five more states will receive federal funding to help troubled homeowners avoid foreclosure, the White House announced earlier this week.

Last month, President Obama unveiled the Hardest Hit Fund, which pumped $1.5 billion into state housing agencies in California, Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Michigan. These five were originally identified because they had been hardest hit by the housing bust, with prices declining more than 20%.

Now, an additional $600 million is being doled out to the five states that have the largest number of counties suffering unemployment rates above 12%: North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

The program, which is funded with money from the TARP bank bailout, allows each of the states' agencies to propose foreclosure solutions that address local conditions.

You owe the IRS 99 days of hard work

This year, it's going to take the average American 99 days to earn enough money to pay the IRS. That's one day longer than last year.

"Tax Freedom Day" marks the date that most Americans have earned enough money to pay their federal, state and local taxes, and this year that day arrives on April 9, according to the Tax Foundation's annual calculation, which is based on government tax and income data.

Tax Freedom Day arriving one day later than it did last year means most Americans will have to work that much harder - for more than three months - just to pay their 2010 taxes.

Follow the money… on Twitter: @AndrewTorganCNN

Filed under: Andrew Torgan • Economy • Finance
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