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Martin Crutsinger
Associated Press|ap.org

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of previously owned U.S. homes posted the best monthly gain in nearly three years in May, providing hope that housing is beginning to regain momentum lost over the past year.

The National Association of Realtors reported Monday that sales of existing homes increased 4.9 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million homes. The monthly gain was the fastest since August 2011, but even with the increase, sales are still 5 percent below the pace in May 2013. read more »

 

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Wednesday that the U.S. economy is improving but noted that the job market remains “far from satisfactory” and inflation is still below the Fed’s target rate.

Speaking to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, Yellen said that as a result, she expects low borrowing rates will continue to be needed for a “considerable time.” read more »

 

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve cautioned America’s political leaders that their policies are hurting the economy.

The Fed stood by its aggressive efforts to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment. But it sent its clearest signal to date that tax increases and spending cuts that kicked in this year are slowing the economy.

“Fiscal policy is restraining economic growth,” the Fed said in a statement May 1 after a two-day policy meeting.

The Fed maintained its plan to keep short-term interest rates at record lows at least until unemployment falls to 6.5 percent from its current 7.6 percent. And it said it will continue to buy $85 billion a month in Treasury and mortgage bonds. The bond purchases are intended to keep long-term borrowing costs down and encourage borrowing and spending. read more »

 

WASHINGTON — U.S. homebuilders broke the 1 million mark in March for the first time since June 2008. The gain signals continued strength for the housing recovery at the start of the spring buying season.

The overall pace of homes started rose 7 percent from February to March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.04 million, the Commerce Department said April 16.

Apartment construction, which tends to fluctuate sharply from month to month, led the surge: It jumped nearly 31 percent to an annual rate of 417,000, the fastest pace since January 2006. read more »

 

WASHINGTON — Thanks to solid job creation, Americans spent more at retailers in February despite smaller paychecks. The surprisingly strong increase helped allay fears that higher Social Security taxes and gasoline prices might chill spending early this year.

Much of the increase in February retail sales compared with January reflected the higher gas prices. But even excluding the volatile categories of gas, autos and building supply stores, so-called core retail sales rose strongly.

Economists were encouraged by the healthier-than-expected numbers from the Commerce Department on March 13. Afterward, some revised their estimates of U.S. economic growth for the January-March quarter. read more »

 

WASHINGTON — Ben Bernanke sent a message this week to Congress: The Federal Reserve’s low-interest-rate policies are giving crucial support to an economy still burdened by high unemployment.

The Fed chairman acknowledged the risks of keeping rates low indefinitely. But he expressed confidence that such risks pose little threat now.

Delivering the Fed’s semiannual monetary report to Congress on Feb. 26, Bernanke sought to minimize concerns that the central bank’s easy-money policies might cause runaway inflation later or dangerous bubbles in assets like stocks. He sought to reassure sometimes-skeptical senators that the Fed is monitoring potential threats and can defuse them before they hurt the economy. read more »

 

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve said Jan. 30 that the U.S. economy “paused” in recent months because of temporary factors and reaffirmed its commitment to try to stimulate growth by keeping borrowing costs low for the foreseeable future.

The Fed took no new action at its two-day policy meeting. But it stood behind aggressive steps it launched in December to try to reduce unemployment, in a statement released after the meeting.

In December, the Fed said it would keep its key short-term interest rate at a record low at least until unemployment falls below 6.5 percent. Unemployment is currently 7.8 percent. And the Fed said it would keep buying $85 billion a month in Treasurys and mortgage bonds to try to keep borrowing costs low and encourage spending. read more »

 

WASHINGTON — The aftermath of the housing bust forced many homebuilders to dramatically scale back construction on new homes to avoid the risk of ending up saddled with a trove of newly built, yet unsold properties.

But an improving housing market has homebuilders feeling more confident about sales, and that’s likely to kick the pace of new construction into a higher gear this year.

The Commerce Department said Jan. 17 that builders broke ground on houses and apartments last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000. That’s 12.1 percent higher than November’s annual rate. And it is nearly double the recession low reached in April 2009. read more »

 

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve paid the federal government a record $88.9 billion in 2012. The central bank earned the money from the Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities it has purchased to drive interest rates lower and boost the economy.

The Fed said Thursday that the 2012 payment was up 17.9 percent from 2011 when it paid the federal government $75.4 billion. It also surpassed the previous record payment of $79.3 billion made in 2010.

The Fed began buying Treasury bonds and mortgage bonds during the last recession and has kept up the effort since the downturn ended in June 2009 in an effort to boost the sub-par recovery and lower high unemployment. It is currently purchasing $85 billion in bonds each month. read more »

 
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