Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
Forget 34th street, there was a "miracle on Wall Street" this week, where the Dow cracked the 10,000 barrier for the first time in 18 months. And, there were further indications that the American economy is on the rebound.
Holiday shoppers went to the stores in droves last month, pushing retail sales upward by nine-tenths of a percent. Wholesale prices retreated slightly in November, suggesting inflation poses no threat to the economic resurgence. And, the Federal Reserve kept its key interest rate, the one banks charge each other for overnight loans, at a 45-year low.
Even so, there are nagging concerns, especially over the battered job market and a burgeoning trade deficit that grew by half-a-billion dollars in October. From televisions to clothing to car parts, the American appetite for overseas goods continues to grow.
Fortunately, the foreign craving for U.S. farm goods is equally ravenous. With the American agricultural trade surplus growing to near record levels, it's clear the revival in commodity prices is due in large part to blistering exports.
Agricultural exports, the lone bright spot in the U.S. trade picture, may reach new heights in 2004. Currently, the government predicts America's farmers and ranchers will export $59.5 billion worth of agricultural goods... just half-a-billion dollars below the old record of $60 billion set in 1996.
The Bush administration's decision last week to lift tariffs on steel imports, rather than risk retaliation against U.S. agricultural exports, favors the notion of increased sales. But other factors also support a bullish outlook.
China is expected to suspend corn exports in January and February, opening the door for the U.S. to pick up the slack. A Chinese buying delegation, scheduled to arrive next week, is expected to purchase as much as 1.5 million metric tons of soybeans. The Chinese had cancelled the trip last month when the U.S imposed limits on imports of some Chinese-made textiles. Nevertheless, China is expected to buy 22 million tons of soybeans this year -- with nearly a third of the legumes coming from the U.S.