Retail sales figures in February were the best they’ve been in years, pushing the markets and exchange traded funds (ETFs) into lightly positive territory. But holding things back is the report on pending home sales, which went on a surprise decline in January.
If you were wondering about that real estate recovery, you may have to keep doing that: pending home sales took a surprise downturn in January, sinking 7.6%. Much of the blame is being placed on those massive snowstorms back East, which had people thinking about heating their homes and securing provisions like bread and milk, instead of buying new homes. iShares Dow Jones U.S. Home Construction (NYSEArca: ITB) is down about 1% this morning; ITB has a mix of homebuilders and retail stores that benefit when the housing market is strong. [Homebuilders Surging Ahead.]
The Snowpocalypse didn’t keep shoppers from the stores last month. Retailers selling luxury goods and discount wares alike reported strong earnings, and 82%beat expectations. But the industry can’t rest on its laurels just yet; March is a longer month and will feature Easter-related spending, so the numbers will be eyed closely. SPDR S&P Retail (NYSEArca: XRT) is up more than 1.5% this morning. [5 ETFs for the New Retail Climate.]
Have you been feeling like you’re doing ever more at work? Then you’re not alone. Worker productivity surged 6.9% in the fourth quarter as companies squeeze more out of their reduced staffing levels. The jump was the biggest gain in a single year since 2002. Labor costs also declined by 5.9% for the quarter and 1.7% for the year – good news for employers, but not great for consumers.
First-time filings for unemployment benefits retreated from three-month highs this week, and the four-week average also retreated. Businesses are still a little reluctant to hire, but at the very least, layoffs have slowed. How long the recovery in the jobs market will take is another question entirely. Watchers believe that growth will be tepid and spotty, at best.
The Bank of England today followed the lead of the Federal Reserve and kept its own interest rates at record lows of 0.5%, making it the 12th straight month it has done so. Numbers show that the economy is growing faster than thought, but like many other developed nations, that growth has been full of stumbling blocks and hiccups. iShares MSCI United Kingdom (NYSEArca: EWU) is down about 0.6% so far today. [More on Europe.]
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.