Economy cruising in the slow lane

Next year's likely $775 billion-plus budget deficit may prolong low interest rates

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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.