Mortgage rates stayed sub-5.5 percent all week long; at their lowest, almost reaching the 5.25 percent half-century record set in June of '03. February retail sales came in on the soggy side, flat for the month, ex-autos; and the University of Michigan consumer confidence numbers failed to recoup the January plunge. The stock market this week lost all of its 2004 gains, which helped interest rates to stay low, but the decline is thus far no more than a modest retracement of a yearlong, straight-line gain. The bombing in Spain affected financial markets only at Thursday's close, and only at the suggestion that the work was al Quaeda's, not that of Basque separatists. I suspect that the markets are adjusting to a now-permanent threat of terrorism. The acts themselves are economic pinpricks (so long as non-nuclear), and the only real economic damage is self-inflicted by various forms of panic. Fear reduces tolerance for risk-taking of all kinds, and induces the financial and societal co...
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