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State concludes 2004 on positive economic notes

Utah concluded 2004 on several positive economic notes.

The state's business conditions index rose in December, continuing a fourth-quarter climb, indicated the latest Trenlines report compiled by the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

The Utah index rose to 63.3 in December, up from 53.3 in October and 58.5 in November 2004.

In addition, small companies in Utah are less likely than many nationwide to default on loans backed by the United States Small Business Administration.

Utah has one of the lowest SBA loan loss rates in the nation at 2.62 percent, ranking 52nd lowest of 70 districts.

Ending Jan. 1, the four-week average of initial unemployment insurance claims filed at locations across Utah registered at 1,593. The number represents a decrease of 35 percent from the four-week average of 2,462 filings last year.

The number of all initial claims filed during the week registered at 1,557. Weeks claimed numbered 14,732 decreasing by 26 percent compared to 19,821 last year..

At the national level, American employers added 157,000 job opportunities in December, slightly fewer than expected, reported the U.S. Labor Department. But the federal agency indiccated that U.S. expereicned the best job growth in 2004 since 1999.

The nationwide unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.4 percent in December. But the U.S. Labor Department confirmed that claims for U.S. jobless pay surged unexpectedly last week to the highest level since late September 2004.

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose 43,000 to 364,000 during the week ending Jan. 1.

The 2004 holiday shopping season turned out to be a bumpy one, with last-minute shoppers giving some retailers' solid results but other storeowners struggling to a disappointing finish. With heavy discounts driving the increase in sales, some retailers have announced lower earning projections.

American agriculture producers can look back with satisfaction at bumper harvests, high livestock and milk prices and record farm incomes last year. The US Department of Agriculture confirmed that net farm income in 2004 should hit $74 billion in 2004, compared with $59 billion in 2003 and $48 billion in 2000.

The euro posted its biggest decline against the dollar in seven months after a report from the Federal Reserve led some investors to bet the Fed might raise interest rates more aggressively this year than previously thought. The euro fell 2 cents to $1.3273 per euro, the lowest level since Dec. 16. It was the biggest decline since early June. Stock prices also fell swiftly.

Congress expects the White House to request as much as $100 billion this year for war and related costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, congressional officials say. It would be the third and largest Iraq-related budget request from the White House yet, and it could push the war's costs over $200 billion � far above initial White House estimates of $50 billion-$60 billion. So far, the Iraq war has cost about $130 billion, according to the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

The new year is expected to usher in a flurry of job hopping as employees frustrated by years of incremental raises and scarce advancement opportunities begin shopping for new employers. Nearly half of U.S. companies face an employee exodus as the economy improves, according to a survey by Novations Selection, Development and Communication, a performance improvement firm. Typically, fewer than 10% of employers would expect such turnover.

The U.S. services industry grew further in December, rounding out a year of expansion in the huge sector. The Institute for Supply Management said its non-manufacturing index rose to 63.1 in December from 61.3 in November, beating out Wall Street's median estimate of 61.0.

U.S. factory orders rose at the fastest rate in four months during November as strong demand for new commercial aircraft pushed business up by 1.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted $377.42 billion.

The Energy Department reported that the average U.S. retail price for regular-grade gasoline fell 1.3 cents the past week to $1.778 a gallon, the lowest since the end of March, as refiners passed along cheaper crude-oil costs.

The nation's industrial sector ended 2004 on a high note, with manufacturing activity expanding in December for the 19th consecutive month, the Institute for Supply Management reported. But the government said construction spending dropped in November as builders reined in projects in anticipation of higher interest rates.

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