Spate of grim data raises specter of ‘double-dip’ slump

Joblessness, earnings reports worry economists, Wall Street

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The July numbers for overall foreclosure activities - which also include default notices and scheduled auctions - weren’t quite so bad, the 325,229 figure increasing over the June numbers but declining compared with July 2009. But those levels are still are historically high.

“July marked the 17th consecutive month with a foreclosure activity total exceeding 300,000,” said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. “Declines in new default notices, which were down on a year-over-year basis for the sixth straight month in July, have been offset by near-record levels of bank repossessions, which increased on a year-over-year basis for the eighth straight month.”

Overall for the year, RealtyTrac estimates final home seizures to top 1 million U.S. households.

Those numbers haunted even the good news on interest rates in recent days — Freddie Mac announced Thursday that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.44 percent this week — as the interest declines reflect economic uncertainty and highlight a continuing grim housing market even with cheap mortgage rates.

Across the Atlantic, economic numbers released by the EU statistics office Eurostat on Thursday showed surprising weakness, with industrial production in the 16-nation eurozone declining 0.1 percent in June versus May, a major dropoff from May’s healthy 1.1 percent increase and a failure to meet consensus expectations of a 0.6 percent rise.

The eurozone nations are scheduled Friday to release figures on second-quarter economic growth. Although the numbers are expected to be better than the anemic 0.2 percent growth achieved in the first quarter, Thursday’s numbers left analysts worried, since Eurostat also has reported weak numbers on consumer behavior, saying retail spending remained flat in June after rising slightly in May.

On Tuesday, Federal Reserve officials made clear that they fear a further slowdown, and singled out the jobs field as a particular cause for concern, saying “employers remain reluctant to add to payrolls.”

In their statement, the Fed members declared that the recovery’s pace “has slowed in recent months” and is “likely to be more modest in the near term than had been anticipated.”

The grim economic statistics continued Wednesday, with the U.S. trade deficit in June increasing by $7.9 billion — a monthly record — to $49.9 billion. The deficit was the largest in almost two years and was accompanied by a rare absolute decline in the value of U.S. exports.

In a sign that consumers remain spooked — and therefore less likely to spend or borrow and help stimulate the economy — an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday said 64 percent of Americans think the economy will get worse and has yet to reach its low point, compared with 53 percent who expressed that sentiment in January.

*This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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