Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. The U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in March at its strongest pace in 5 1/2 years.
The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said its gauge of industrial activity rose 5 percent last month.
Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said construction spending fell 1.3 percent in February to its lowest level since 2002.
Together, the construction and manufacturing sectors lost about 4 million jobs during the recession. But the Labor Department said Thursday that new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, marking the fourth decline in the past five weeks.
And virtually all of the major automobile manufacturers announced big increases in March sales numbers, led by Toyota which -- despite issuing recalls of more than 8 million vehicles over safety issues -- posted a 41 percent year over year gain.
Hoping to spur development of next-generation hybrid and electric vehicles, the Obama administration unveiled more rigorous automobile fuel efficiency and emissions standards Thursday, but that doesn't mean the president is giving up on fossil fuels.
President Barack Obama reversed-course on domestic energy policy this week. An Obama Administration decision to lift a two-decade long moratorium on offshore oil drilling could speed exploration of oil and natural gas throughout the Atlantic coastline. The executive policy change affects states as far north as Delaware and as far south as Florida. Additional sections include the Gulf of Mexico and isolated inlets in Alaska.
The often controversial options of oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the Western U.S. coastline were NOT part of the Administration's plans.
Originally placed off-limits by President George H. W. Bush, some oil and gas leases off U.S. coastal waters could open under Interior Department supervision.
Critics argue the Obama Administration decision is in direct contrast with then-candidate Obama during the 2008 Presidential election.
Pressed by GOP rival Sen. John McCain to "Drill here and drill now," Obama cautioned against using domestic oil drilling as the focal point of energy policy.
Sen. Barack Obama: "Yes, limited offshore drilling but only as a stop-gap measure to get us to renewable energy." (August 2008, Democratic National Convention)
Political prognosticators claim the Obama decision could be an olive branch to Republicans wary of cap-and-trade legislation on Capitol Hill. A bipartisan team of Senators including Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut are laboring over an energy policy overhaul.
A wide range of interest groups have pegged cap-and-trade legislation as either an economic boon to farmers and alternative energy companies OR a business-crippling tax on energy usage.
President Obama hopes Congressional leaders can reach consensus on energy reform prior to the November elections but final passage is anything but certain.