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IS THE ECONOMY'S PARACHUTE READY TO OPEN?
'We're hardly out of the woods yet," says economist Irwin L. Kellner of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. "But the free-fall in the economy seems to have ended."
Kellner's evidence: Weekly jobless insurance claims have dropped by about 60,000 from their level in mid-December and appear to have stabilized, while help-wanted advertising rose slightly in December. Nondefense capital goods orders jumped in December, January saw a healthy 1.3% rise in department store sales, mortgage rates are at a four-year low, and gasoline prices in many localities are back down to pre-invasion levels and are probably headed lower.GENE KORETZ