Money in a Minute: Headlines for April 1, 2011

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In today's news: The Dow Jones does its best of the millennium, there's a double shot of good economic news, not-so-good news in home sales, meat is costing more, and healthcare costs for seniors may be dropping soon.

STOCKS: Dow ends first quarter with best start since ’99

When the Dow Jones industrial average closed yesterday, it set a new record for the millennium – “its best start to the year since 1999 Thursday, rising 6.4 percent in the first three months,” MSNC reports. “The index of 30 large companies gained 742 points in that stretch. Measured against other first quarters, that’s the largest point gain since 1998 and the second best on record.”

ECONOMY: U.S. jobless claims fall, consumer confidence improves

In this hesitant economic recovery, seldom does the good news come in pairs. But “the number of applications for unemployment insurance payments fell by 6,000” at the end of March while “the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose to minus 46.9 last week from a seven-month low of minus 48.9,” Bloomberg reports.

HOUSING: 1.8M ‘distressed’ homes could weigh on home prices for years

Sadly, good news doesn’t come in threes. The United States has 1.8 million “distressed homes” – meaning 90 days delinquent, about to be foreclosed, or the banks have already seized them – that haven’t been listed for sale yet. While that’s lower than the 2 million last year, USA Today calls it “a ‘shadow inventory’ that is expected to weigh on home prices for years.”

FOOD: Beef prices soar

Meat is costing more, and there’s no end in sight. “In February, the average retail price per pound for beef was $3.87, up 12.4 percent versus a year ago,” CNN Money reports. “The average retail price for a pound of chicken was up 3.9 percent in February.”

HEALTH CARE: Health care overhaul will cut retiree health costs

While health care costs are going up for many, they could drop for seniors. ” For the first time in 10 years, the outlook is improving for new retirees wondering whether they’ll be able to pay their medical bills,” USA Today reports. The reason? “President Obama’s year-old health care overhaul, which will reduce many seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs.”

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