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Treasury prices moved lower again today on very light volume, lifting short- and intermediate-term yields to their highest levels in nearly a month.

Two second-tier economic reports were stronger than expected, indicating that neither the recent series of interest-rate hikes by the

Fed nor the struggling stock market has put much of a damper on consumer spending, the economy's biggest driving force.

Consumer confidence fell only slightly in April despite carnage in the stock market, and

existing home sales continued to rebound.

"The unsightly combination of a weak equity market,

Federal Reserve

monetary tightening and higher energy prices" -- though down from their March peak -- "failed to put a dent in what remains a very high level of consumer confidence," said John Lonski, chief economist at

Moody's Investors Service

.

Meanwhile, Lonski said, today's positive action in stocks "tends to support the view that the brisk pace of U.S. domestic spending will persist."

The bond selloff occurred in spite of the

Treasury Department's

announcement that the fourth installment of its buyback program will take place on Thursday. In the operation, the department will take offers on 30-year Treasury bonds issued from 1985 to 1995, intending to buy $3 billion of them, it said.

The announcement failed to lift long-term Treasury prices because the market has already amply discounted the buybacks, market analysts said. "Buybacks are nice, but some of the potency of buybacks to support the intermediate and long end of the Treasury market may be been exaggerated over the course of the last two months," said Jack Malvey, chief global fixed-income strategist at

Lehman Brothers

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.

As a result, Malvey said, the Treasury market is "returning to a more classic, fundamental focus" on the prospects for inflation. This week, that means dwelling on key economic data due out later this week -- chiefly

GDP and the

Employment Cost Index, both for the first quarter.

Either of which has the potential to change the likeliest outcome of the next Fed meeting on May 16 from a 25-basis-point hike in the

fed funds rate to a 50-basis-point move, said Ken Logan, managing analyst at

IFR

.

At the same time, Logan pointed out, the biweekly Commitments of Traders report by the

Commodity Futures Trading Commission

have been revealing that speculators -- any market's weak hands -- have been amassing record long positions in interest-rate futures.

This is a bearish indicator. "I think what we're seeing is a liquidation of sorts by the weaker hands," he said. "If the weak hands are sitting with record long positions, you can guess they're trying to get out. But volume is extremely light, so they're not finding many takers for their paper. So the price action is being exaggerated."

According to tracker

GovPX

, just $31.5 billion of Treasuries changed hands by 3 p.m., 28% below the average for Tuesdays over the past months.

Finally, although the Treasury's buybacks are a positive force in the market, they are being counteracted these days by upcoming Treasury auctions of new short- and intermediate-term notes, Logan said. The Treasury will sell $12 billion of new two-year notes tomorrow, and yet-to-be-determined quantities of new five- and 10-year notes the second week of May. In advance of the auctions, traders have little incentive to accept higher prices.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury note ended down 27/32 at 102 20/32, lifting its yield 12.6 basis points to 6.136%, highest since March 29. The five-year note fell 12/32 to 98, lifting its yield 9.8 basis points to 6.375%, also highest since March 29. The two-year note dropped 5/32 to 100 1/32, lifting its yield 8.6 basis points to 6.479%, the highest since April 1. And the 30-year bond shed 1 point to 104 9/32, hiking its yield 9 basis points to 5.942%.

At the

Chicago Board of Trade

, the June

Treasury futures contract dropped TK to TK.

Economic Indicators

The Consumer Confidence Index fell to 136.9 in April from 137.1 in March. Economists polled by

Reuters

had predicted it would fall to 135.8, on average. The index hit an all-time high of 144.7 in January, and remains in the top decile of all time, according to Lonski.

Meanwhile, existing home sales rose 1.5% to an annual pace of 4.83 million in March from 4.76 million in February. They had been expected to retreat to 4.74 million on average. The pace remains well below its June 1999 peak of 5.59 million, but is the fastest pace so far this year, in spite of the fact that mortgage rates are unchanged on the year.

Freddie Mac's

30-year mortgage rate stood at 8.16% on Friday, vs. 8.15% at the start of the year.

The two weekly retail sales reports showed a slight weakening of April sales. The

BTM/Schroder Weekly Chain Store Sales Index fell 0.2%, dropping its year-on-year pace from -1.0% to -1.2%. The

Redbook Retail Average found April sales running 1.4% ahead of March, the same reading as the previous week.

Currency and Commodities

The dollar fell against the yen and rose against the euro. It lately was worth 105.79 yen, up from 105.78. The euro was worth $0.9240, down from $0.9383. For more on currencies, please take a look at

TSC's

new

Currencies column.

Crude oil for June delivery at the

New York Mercantile Exchange

fell to $25.36 a barrel from $26.04.

The

Bridge Commodity Research Bureau Index

rose to 212.10 from 211.81.

Gold for June delivery at the

Comex

fell to $279.8 an ounce from $281.20 yesterday.