Signs of USS Economy righting itself?

The Queen Mary 2 sails past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor on Sunday.

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: The Federal Reserve is out with its "beige book," and there's no mention of a looming recession, nothing worse than a "slower pace" of growth.

And Marketplace's Jill Barshay turned up more signs that the ship we'll call the "USS Economy" might just be righting itself.


JILL BARSHAY: There's no quick way to steer this ship out of peril, but conditions showed a subtle improvement today. Applications for new mortgages jumped 28 percent last week. So says a report today by the Mortgage Bankers Association. Jay Brinkman is their vice of president of research.

JAY BRINKMAN: It indicates that a lot of people are paying attention to what's going on with interest rates. I think they're looking at some of their adjustable rate mortgages and saying this is a great opportunity to lock into a fixed rate at rates that we have not seen for several years now.

Brinkman says this is the way the cycle is supposed to work. The economy slows, policy makers cut rates and business starts up again.

Mortgage applications surged after the September 11 downturn. That was an early sign that the economy was back on course, but Brinkman says it's too early to make that call again now. There are similar stirrings in the energy sector. David Kirsch is manager of market intelligence at PFC Energy. He says oil spiked above $100 a barrel earlier this month, but today it fell below 90.

DAVID KIRSCH: Now some of that steam is coming off as the global economic indicators are coming in far worse than expected.

Cheaper fuel will leave more cash in consumers' pocketbooks, but Kirsch warns oil's still a lot more expensive than a year ago. The weak dollar may help. U.S. exports are up, and MGM Mirage today said more foreign tourists are flocking to its slot machines.

In New York, I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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