- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

The number of people applying for jobless claims for the first time jumped by 62,000 to 589,000 for the week ended Saturday, the Labor Department reported Thursday, maintaining the highest level in 26 years.

The number was far more than the 540,000 than analysts had expected from a revised figure of 517,000 a week earlier and possibly forecast worse to come. The unemployment rate stands at 7.2 percent.

At the same time, the Commerce Department reported that the construction of new homes dropped 15.5 percent December to an annual rate of 550,000 houses and apartments, the worst year on record since 1959. Analysts had expected a showing of 610,000, the Associated Press quoted Thomson Reuters as saying.

In another record, the number of units started by builders plunged 33.3 percent to 904,000 for all of last year compared to the 1.355 million for which ground was broken in 2007.

The bleak news from the government could mean a lower opening for Wall Street.

The European and Asian markets turned in robust performances coming off Wall Street’s rally Wednesday, but the New York exchanges apparently leaned toward a more sobering outlook because future prices for two of the main indexes pointed downward.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.66 percent and the Standard & Poor’s 500 dropped more than 1 percent. The Nasdaq 100 rose about a quarter percent. Futures generally are a reliable indicator of what the markets will do at the opening.

Abroad, the three major European markets were up at least 2 percent. Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average climbed 1.9 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.6 percent. What could carry the market forward is the technology sector, as it did Wednesday, because Apple Inc. reported after Wall Street closed Wednesday that its profit for the company’s first fiscal quarter increased 2 percent, beating expectations by analysts.

Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and Advanced Micro Devices were to release their quarterly financial results after the markets close Thursday.

In Japan, electronics and entertainment giant Sony Corp. predicted its first annual net loss in 14 years — $1.7 billion through March — because of declining sales and a strong yen that hurt exports.

The company already has said it will cut 8,000 of its 185,000 jobs worldwide, close six of its 57 factories and reduce its temporary workforce by 8,000. But it said Thursday that it plans to cut another 1,000 temporary workers and close one of two Japanese TV factories.

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