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    Republicans lawmakers on Friday appointed a former White House economist with a conservative pedigree to head Congress's traditionally nonpartisan research body for budget policy. Keith Hall, who served as chief economist on former President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, will take the reins at the Congressional Budget Office in April.

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    The longer-run value of the federal funds rate is 3.5%, well below its historical level of 4.5%, said William Dudley, the president of the New York Fed, on Friday. The longer-run value is where the funds rate would encourage growth without generating inflation pressures. Estimates of the rate are important because it can be a clue to the eventual goal of Fed rate hikes.

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    NEW YORK-- Two Federal Reserve officials offered competing views on Friday about when to start lifting interest rates, as the debate over when to act intensifies. New York Fed President William Dudley said that the risks in lifting interest rates too soon are higher than the risks of doing so too late. In a speech to the Initiative on Global Markets conference sponsored by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Dudley said uncertainty about this recovery argues for...

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    Rick Perry called the unemployment rate a "sham" at a key conservative political gathering on Friday. The comments came as the unofficial race to be the presidential nominee in 2016 heated up at the four-day Conservative Political Action Conference, which features possible candidates such as Perry, former Fla. Jeb Bush and Kentucky Sen.

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    We can all agree that one sector did not live up to expectations this time last year and was a subsequent drag on the economy: The housing sector. With a miss like that, even the most gullible person you know is likely to look at the NAHB's 2015 forecast -- 803,000 single family housing units -- and be like "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

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    Retail investors are returning to bank loan mutual funds following seven straight months of outflows, with the Federal Reserve more clearly signaling an interest rate hike and higher secondary loan market prices starting to attract momentum buyers, investors and strategists said. The first weekly inflows of $130 million broke a 31-week streak of outflows in the week ending February 18.

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    U.S. consumer sentiment fell from an 11-year high in February, weighed down by an unusually severe winter, a survey released on Friday showed. The University of Michigan's final February reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment was 95.4, sliding from January's 98.1, which was the highest since January 2004.

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    Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank president Loretta Mester said on Friday that there were risks to holding interest rates lower for too much longer, including potential financial stability concerns and an erosion of public confidence in the economy.

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    Pending home sales rose in January to the highest level since Aug. 2013, the National Association of Realtors reported Friday. Its pending home sales index rose 1.7% from an upwardly revised December level, and sales were up 8.4% from Jan. 2014 levels. "Contract activity is convincingly up compared to a year ago despite comparable inventory levels," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist.

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    The U.S. economy grew a revised 2.2% in the final three months of 2014, mostly because companies restocked warehouse shelves at a slower pace than the government originally reported. Gross domestic product was marked down from an original estimate of 2.6%. The value of inventories, which adds to GDP, increased by $88.4 billion in the fourth quarter instead of $113.1 billion, the Commerce Department said Friday.

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    The February reading of Chicago PMI tumbled to a five-and-a-half year low of 45.8, MNI Indicators said Friday. The reading, down from 59.4 in January and below the 50 mark measuring contraction, came after double-digit drops in production, new orders, order backlogs and employment. The West Coast port strike and the harsh winter probably had a negative impact in February, although it is difficult to gauge the magnitude, the report said.

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    WASHINGTON-- A range of data released Friday covering five months of economic activity show an increasingly strong consumer at the same time businesses are expressing concern about the future. The data released this week suggest better times for Main Street-- if the rug doesn't get pulled away. In the downward revision to fourth-quarter gross domestic product data, consumption was still strong.

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    By Myra P. Saefong and Barbara Kollmeyer, MarketWatch. SAN FRANCISCO-- Gold futures edged higher on Friday, but were still set to post their biggest monthly loss since September. Traders continued to monitor the direction of the dollar, mulled the timing of a Federal Reserve rate hike and digested the latest spate of U.S. economic data in their quest to gauge the metal's appeal.

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    U.S. consumer sentiment fell from an 11-year high in February, a survey released on Friday showed. The University of Michigan's final February reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment was 95.4, higher than the initial reading of 93.6 and the market forecast for a reading of 94.0. However, February's final sentiment index was lower than January's final reading of 98.1.

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    * Top economists urge 'later but steeper' tightening. * Paper dismisses 'secular stagnation' theory. * Casts doubt on clear-cut equilibrium policy rate. By Jonathan Spicer.

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    There was an upward bump in the final reading of the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment report for February, but the index still fell for the first time since July. According to published reports on Friday, the sentiment index was 95.4 in February-- up from a preliminary reading of 93.6 but down from January's 98.1 showing. Sentiment has been boosted in recent months by the steep slide in gasoline prices and by the gains in employment.

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    Consumer spending strong, but firms slower to rebuild inventories. WASHINGTON-- Consumers spent a bundle in fourth quarter, fresh government statistics confirm, but the U.S. economy as a whole grew slower than initially reported owing to a smaller buildup in business inventories. Gross domestic product expanded by a 2.2% annual clip in the final three months of 2014, down from an initial read of 2.6%, the Commerce Department said Friday.

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    Contracts to purchase previously owned U.S. homes rose to their highest level in 1-1/2 years in January, a hopeful sign that the sluggish housing recovery may be gaining speed. The National Association of Realtors said its pending home sales index rose 1.7 percent last month, a gain that more than reversed a December slide.