Stocks and exchange traded funds (ETFs) are enjoying a push this morning from a better-than-expected report from the retail sector.

September retail sales rose 0.6%, better than what analysts had expected. Retailers have been hurting for more than a year now as consumers have increasingly tightened the grip on their wallets, reports Kevin Kingsbury for The Wall Street Journal. Despite the increase, the bad news is that retail sales are at 2005 levels. SPDR S&P Retail (NYSEArca: XRT) is up more than 2% this morning. (Read more about the retail sector here).

Alcoa (NYSE: AA) notched a surprise profit after the market closed yesterday through a combination of cost-cutting steps and higher aluminum prices, reports Reuters. The report comes after three straight quarterly losses. Wall Street had expected another loss. iShares Dow Jones U.S. Basic Materials (NYSEArca: IYM) is up nearly 3% this morning. Alcoa is 3.7%.

The number of newly laid-off workers filing for unemployment has dropped to the lowest number since the  start of this year. It’s the fourth drop in new claims in five weeks, and is being taken as a sign that some healing in the job market is still taking place.

The European Central Bank and the Bank of England both opted to keep their interest rates unchanged, leaving them at record lows of 1% and 0.5%, respectively, report George Frey and Robert Barr for the Associated Press. While the eurozone’s two largest economies – France and Germany – are technically out of a recession, authorities want to keep growth moving in the right direction. The iShares MSCI EMU (NYSEArca: EZU) is up more than 2% this morning. You can read more about Europe’s recovery efforts here.

August wholesale inventories declined for a record 12th straight month in August. This indicates that companies are shrinking orders to factories. But more encouraging is that sales at the wholesale level rose by the largest amount in 14 months, reports Martin Crutsinger for the Associated Press.

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.