Money in a Minute: Headlines for Feb. 8, 2011

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In today's roundup: Sugar prices and credit card use are going up, but Ford's reputation and federal tax rates are going down. Meanwhile, you can check if your county is an economically good place to live.

FOOD PRICES: Sugar shortage looms as storm ruins Australian crop

Why should you care about a hurricane in Queensland? Because Tropical Cyclone Yasi wiped out a third of the country’s sugar cane – and Australia is the world’s third-largest exporter of the sweet stuff. Bloomberg reports that “winds stronger than Hurricane Katrina” not only destroyed homes but will push sugar prices to 30-year highs.”

CREDIT CARDS: Consumers using credit cards again

It sounds like a lot of money: “Consumers increased their borrowing by $6.1 billion in December,” USA Today reports. But that’s only a 3 percent increase. Still, it’s the biggest gain in two years, and reflects an economy on the mend.

CARS: Ford recalls over 1,600 new Explorers for seat problem

Another day, another Ford recall. On Friday, it was 363,000 F-150 trucks with faulty door latches that could fail in a crash. Today, it’s Explorers with second-row seats that could also fail in a crash. MSNBC reports that Ford “shipped some second-row seats with manual reclining mechanisms that did not meet federal safety standards.” Recall notices will go out Feb. 14 – Valentine’s Day.

TAXES: By one measure, federal taxes lowest since 1950

Yes, you read that headline right: “As a share of the nation’s economy, Uncle Sam’s tax take this year will be the lowest since 1950,” USA Today reports. “And for the third straight year, American families and businesses will pay less in federal taxes than they did under President George W. Bush.”

ECONOMY: 20 most stressed, 20 least stressed counties

This morning, the Associated Press released a list of the 10 best and worst counties in America as judged by its trademarked “AP Economic Stress Index.” It probably won’t surprise you that more than half of the most-stressed counties are located in California (led by Imperial County, on the border with Mexico and Arizona). The states with the least-stressed counties? Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Iowa.

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