Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Since consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of all domestic economic activity, analysts monitor retail sales figures closely. And there were signs this week that consumer spending is on the rise.
According to the Commerce Department, Retail Sales increased 1.6 percent in March, as better weather and auto incentives encouraged Americans to buy. The advance marked the third consecutive monthly gain.
Automobile sales rose 6.7 percent last month, but even excluding autos, retail sales rose more than one-half of one percent.
Despite growing demand, prices remained relatively flat. The Consumer Price Index edged up 0.1 percent in March. Stripping out the volatile food and energy sectors, so called, core inflation, was unchanged.
A strengthening global economy is welcome news for America's farmers as they embark in the annual rite of spring planting. And the government reports U.S.. growers are embracing biotechnology in a big way.
According to USDA, biotech seeds accounted for 86 percent of U.S. corn planted in 2009, 91 percent of the soybeans and 88 percent of the cotton. But some growers claim too few seed companies control too much of the market for the technologically advanced products.
At the same time, consolidation and a lack of competition in the meat industry has the Obama Administration eyeing antitrust law enforcement.
Federal regulators are poised to release sweeping antitrust rules directed at the nation's meat industry. A pending decision from the USDA antitrust division could dramatically alter the power structure between livestock producers and meatpackers. Critics of the reforms already warn new government regulations will drive meat prices higher - biting into meatpacker profits and pinching consumer wallets.
The Obama Administration decision could come anytime prior to the summer grilling season. Under the 2008 farm bill, USDA must have any new antitrust regulations in place by summer 2010.
The move, supported by numerous farm-state lawmakers, comes in response to growing consolidation in the American livestock sector.
Just four companies purchase and slaughter 80 percent of all U.S. beef. And some farmers contend that limited markets result in artificially-low profits for livestock producers.
Christine Varney, Dept. of Justice Antitrust Division: "When you have a tremendous amount of market share, you have the responsibility to behave in ways that keep the competitive playing field open. You can not engage in acts that are designed to protect or extend your monopoly."
Last month, Justice Department and USDA officials launched a landmark series of public antitrust hearings. The first in Ankeny, Iowa examined market concentration in the biotech seed industry. Further inquiries into the nation's dairy, chicken, and beef sectors will be held in the coming months.
While few details of the pending USDA guidelines are known, some industry experts believe the new rules could be the strongest antitrust protections since the Great Depression.