An expanding job market and higher stock prices are stabilizing the economy and helping the U.S. overcome a housing slump.
The New York-based Conference Board's *Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose 1/10th of one percent in January.
Also on the rise – and higher than earlier forecast -- are *consumer prices. The Labor Department reports the Consumer Price Index rose 2/10ths of one percent last month.
But falling *energy prices are partially offsetting large increases in other expenses, including food and medical care. In January, gasoline prices at the pump fell by 3 percent, which was 2.7 percent lower than a year ago and 32 percent lower than their peak last July.
The decline is likely to be noticed by the Bush administration, which may take it as confirmation that energy policy reforms are keeping prices in check and making the U.S. a little less dependent upon foreign oil.
President Bush continued pushing his landmark energy proposal this week by participating in a panel discussion on cellulosic ethanol in North Carolina.
President George W. Bush: "People want to keep money in their pocket, and therefore, if it costs less using gasoline, they'll use it. So, therefore, that's why we're driving these research dollars, to get the cost of producing ethanol down so it can compete."
Bush is optimistic his "20 in 10" initiative will reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years. The programs success relies heavily on the production of 35 billion gallons of renewable fuels. If this amount can be produced it would reduce America's gasoline consumption by 15 percent. The president would like 20 billion gallons of those biofuels to come from ethanol derived from cellulose.
Back in Washington, Energy Secretary Sam Bodman also was stumping for the President's cellulosic ethanol plan.
Secretary Sam Bodman, Department of Energy: "There is no silver bullet that will solve the energy challenges that we face; but we can be certain that the only way to move forward is by working together."
Bodman told members of the Energy Initiative Coalition -- an energy policy study group -- the key to reducing dependence on foreign oil was through public-private partnerships.
Secretary Sam Bodman, Department of Energy: "The solutions cannot come just from policy-makers in Washington. Realistically, we can only make progress toward greater energy security by working in partnership with academia, industry, the investment community, consumer groups and other organizations."
Not everyone is on board with the energy plan. Industry analysts are quick to point out that commercialization of cellulosic ethanol is anywhere from 4 to 10 years away. And environmental groups are concerned the new process will increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and create an industry heavily subsidized by the government.