"The economic situation has become distinctly less favorable" since the summer, a somber Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress on Wednesday, announcing his intention to keep trimming interest rates to spark the economy. The latest economic figures illustrate his challenge:
All-time high for intraday crude futures trading. Though the price settled below $100 a barrel by the end of trading Wednesday, the persistent high price of oil futures is being felt throughout the country, as record high gas prices are among the factors eating away at Americans' wallets and crimping retail.
Record high exchange rate vs. the U.S. dollar. The European currency is gaining strength while the dollar's value dwindles, shifting purchasing power out of the United States. One upside: U.S. tourism could benefit, including in Florida, as Europeans look to take advantage of stateside bargains.
Percentage of those planning to spend their tax rebates. A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey shows fewer than one in five Americans wants to use the windfall to fund a shopping spree, opting instead to tuck some away and pay off debts. This result directly opposes the intended purpose of the stimulus package.
Years since the rate of new home sales was worse. In the latest blow to the nationwide housing industry, the January numbers released Wednesday represent a 2.8 percent drop in unit sales from December, while the median price of a new home sold in January was $216,000, down 4.3 percent from December.
Record gold price per ounce. The New York Mercantile Exchange closed Wednesday again in record territory. The precious metal has surged more than $20 in the past two days, indicating a move away form traditional stock and bond holdings among increasingly nervous investors.