Dollars & Sense

Mortgage rates hold

Rates on 30-year mortgages were unchanged this week, remaining at the highest level since mid-March. Mortgage company Freddie Mac reported Thursday that 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 5.88 percent this week, unchanged from last week. The rate was the highest since 30-year rates stood at 6.13 percent the week of March 16. Since then, rates have been below 6 percent for four straight weeks.

Pump prices rising

U.S. retail gas prices extended their record run Thursday, adding to the pain consumers feel every time they fill up. Experts predict prices will rise higher as the peak summer driving season approaches. Meanwhile, crude oil futures fell as the dollar strengthened, giving investors an opportunity to collect profits from the previous session's record rise above $112. At the pump, the national average price of a gallon of gas climbed 1.4 cents overnight to a record $3.357 a gallon. Retail diesel, the fuel of trucks, trains and ships, rose overnight to a national record of $4.045 a gallon.

Few retail winners

With little money left after buying food and fuel, American shoppers handed most retailers their most dismal March in 13 years. As retailers reported sales results Thursday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. were among the few winners, as shoppers stuck to the basics. Wal-Mart raised its earnings outlook, noting that better inventory control helped to limit markdowns on merchandise. It also said April sales should top previous expectations. But March proved to be bleak for most other retailers.

Trade deficit grows

The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly increased for a second straight month in February, raising concerns that the economy's one standout performer could be starting to flag. The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the deficit between what the U.S. imports and what it sells abroad rose 5.7 percent to $63.2 billion in February, the highest since November. Imports of goods and services shot up 3.1 percent to an all-time high.

Coming Saturday

Color of Money columnist Michelle Singletary says consumers must accept some of the blame for the country's economic mess through careless spending.