Trade deficit shrinks as auto and oil imports drop

The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly shrank in January, reflecting a big drop in imports of oil and foreign cars. American exports also fell, a potential blow to hopes that the economic recovery will be aided this year by U.S. sales abroad. The Commerce Department said Thursday that the trade deficit declined to $37.3 billion in January, a drop of 6.6 percent from a revised December deficit of $39.9 billion. Economists had been expected the deficit to widen to $41 billion.

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U.S. exports dipped 0.3 percent, reflecting weaker sales of a wide variety of products from civilian aircraft and machinery to agricultural products. [Read the full article]

The foreclosure crisis in the U.S. isn’t over, but the pace of growth may finally be slowing down.

RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday that the number of households facing foreclosure in February grew 6 percent from a year ago, the smallest annual increase in four years. On the state level, foreclosures declined on a monthly and yearly basis in the hard-hit states of Nevada, Arizona and California, but still grew rapidly in Florida.

More than 308,000 U.S. households, or one in every 418 homes, received a foreclosure-related notice, the Irvine, California-based foreclosure listings company reported. [Read the full article]

In this Feb. 28, 2010 photo, a realtor’s sign proclaims a residential home sale in Sudbury, Mass. Mortgage rates held below the 5 percent threshold for the second straight week, a report said Thursday, March 11, 2010, weeks before a government program that has been keeping rates low is scheduled to expire.(AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

Mortgage rates held below the 5 percent threshold for the second straight week, a report said Thursday, weeks before a government program that has been keeping rates low is scheduled to expire.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 4.95 percent this week, down from 4.97 percent a week earlier, mortgage finance company Freddie Mac said.

Rates dropped to a record low of 4.71 percent in December and have hovered around 5 percent since, kept down by a Federal Reserve campaign to stabilize the housing market by lowering mortgage rates. [Read the full article]

The number of newly laid-off workers requesting unemployment benefits slipped last week, but remains above the level many economists say would signal new hiring.

The four-week average of claims, which smooths volatility, rose to its highest level since November, reflecting a large jump in claims last month.

“The economy is struggling to finally transition back to sustained job growth,” Abiel Reinhart, an economist at JPMorgan Chase, wrote in a note to clients. [Read the full article]

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