New jobless claims dipped last week more than expected, but were still relatively high. Retail sales were better than expected in part because of the timing of Easter, but were still anemic. The WSJ says a Morgan Stanley sales-prediction index is at a seventeen-year low.
A shortage of shipping containers is threatening to put a damper on U.S. exports, the WSJ says in an interesting report. A farm-lobby executive says his industry could have exported as much as 30 percent more so far this year if there had been adequate shipping containers.
Exporters’ frustration is building even as U.S. agricultural exports have jumped 20% by weight in the six months ended Feb. 29, compared with the same period last year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Shipments of lentils and peas are being delayed by months. Cargo-ship operators are raising prices. Many cold-storage facilities are packed to near capacity with pork and other meat products waiting to be loaded into containers—rectangular boxes that are generally 20-feet or 40-feet long.
Seems like the rest of the world could use some of that food right about now.
The WSJ on A1 looks at the bizarre world of commercial real estate, where just because you lose your lenders and investors a couple hundred million bucks here and there, doesn’t mean you can’t do it all again. The paper profiles a New York developer who’s about to be wiped out of his billion-dollar-plus casino and condo development in Las Vegas. It’ll be the second time in the last two decades one of his major projects has gone belly up, not to mention a couple of other properties he’s owned that he’s lost or had to put into bankruptcy.
Forget about all that—would you lend a billion dollars for this?
For the retail space, they ordered up a pair of 28-foot industrial robots programmed to box, to dance to “Disco Inferno,” and to play 12-foot Fender Stratocaster guitars. On the roof above the casino and stores, they planned a five-acre “beach” with sand, cabanas and a pool with artificial tides.
Seemingly unflappable Toyota’s profits dropped 28 percent last quarter in what its president called a “severe business environment.” It predicted its annual profit would drop this year for the first time since 1999 because of the U.S. downturn.
Toyota’s gloomy guidance bodes ill for the global car industry’s prospects this year as the Japanese company produces more compacts and other fuel efficient cars—such as the Prius petrol-electric hybrid—than competitors such as General Motors. It makes relatively few of the larger vehicles consumers are shunning as petrol prices spike. Toyota outsold GM in the first quarter of this year and is expected to overtake it soon as the top-selling carmaker.
The NYT inside its business section says the American market’s woes will push the company faster into newer markets like China. Bloomberg says an S&P report predicts car sales this year will be the lowest since 1995. General Motors offered to give a parts supplier $200 million to help it settle a strike that’s been going on for ten weeks.