HIRING HAS REALLY PICKED UP
During June-August 2012, non-farm payrolls grew by an average of 135,000 jobs a month. Across September-November, that average improved to 181,000 per month. From December-February, the economy added an average of 191,000 jobs a month. The icing on the cake: the latest monthly report from the Labor Department showed 236,000 new jobs generated in February, including the biggest monthly surge of hiring in the construction industry in six years. Unemployment fell to a four-year low of 7.7% in February, but the percentage of Americans either working or looking for work hit a 30-year low – 130,000 people dropped out of the job hunt.
KEY INDEX SHOWS HEALTHY SERVICE SECTOR
The Institute for Supply Management’s non-manufacturing PMI came in at 56.0 for February – the best reading in 12 months, up from 55.2 in January. ISM noted a 3.8% increase in new orders, a 5.5% rise in backlogs of orders and a 3.7% gain in prices last month.
BEIGE BOOK ENCOURAGES, BUT FACTORY ORDERS DIP
The Federal Reserve’s latest “Beige Book” survey of economic conditions noted modest growth in most of its 12 districts since January, with increased hiring a major factor. Last week, the Commerce Department reported a 1.2% rise in wholesale inventories and a 2.0% drop in factory orders for January.
MORE HISTORY IS MADE
A 2.18% weekly gain brought the DJIA to a new record close of 14,397.07 Friday. The S&P 500 (+2.17% to 1,551.18), NASDAQ (+2.35% to 3,244.37) and Russell 2000 (+3.04% to 942.50) also had terrific weeks. As for the CBOE VIX, it dropped 17.84% in five days to finish last week at 12.62. Gold ended the week at $1,577.7o per ounce on the COMEX, oil at $91.88 a barrel on the NYMEX.
THIS WEEK: On Monday, earnings reports arrive from Urban Outfitters and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Costco reports earnings on Tuesday. Wednesday, the Census Bureau gives us retail sales figures for February, the Commerce Department notes January business inventories, and Express, Inc. announces quarterly results. February’s PPI arrives Thursday, plus Q4 results from Aeropostale. Friday is a quadruple witching day that also sees the release of the February CPI, data on February industrial output, and the preliminary March consumer sentiment survey from the University of Michigan.