As they have all week, exchange traded funds (ETFs) started off flat at the open on Wall Street as oil prices remained above $100 a barrel on worries about supply disruptions in Libya, while investors also reacted to mixed economic data.
- Fewer Americans requested unemployment benefits last week, pushing the average number of applications over the past four weeks to the lowest level in more than two and a half years. Applications for unemployment benefits dropped by 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 391,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the third decline in the past four weeks. The four-week average for applications, a less volatile figure, fell to 402,000. That’s the lowest number since late July 2008 and a hopeful sign that the job market is slowly improving.
- Orders for U.S.-made durable goods rose 2.7% in January on stronger demand for civilian aircraft, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The increase in total orders was very close to the 2.5% gain that was the consensus forecast of economists polled by MarketWatch. This is the first increase in durables in four months. PowerShares Aerospace & Defense (NYSEArca: PPA) is up 1% so far this morning.
- Single-family home prices fell for the sixth month in a row in December, in line with expectations, a closely watched survey said on Tuesday. The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas declined 0.4% in December from November on a seasonally adjusted basis. The figure was in line with analysts’ expectations. During the fourth quarter, home prices declined 3.9% from the previous quarter and were down 4.1% compared to the fourth quarter 2009. The SPDR Dow Jones REIT ETF (NYSEArca: RWR) is flat in early trading.
- The dollar continued to languish Thursday as risk-minded traders steered clear of the U.S. currency, with soaring oil prices instead providing support for other traditionally safer investments such as the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen. Safe-haven support for the dollar could start to emerge in coming days or weeks if tensions escalate, “but equally it might not come at all,” said Steven Barrow, currency and fixed-income strategist at Standard Bank, in a note to clients. PowerShares DB U.S. Dollar Bearish (NYSEArca: UDN) is up this morning and up 1.5% for the last five trading days.
- Oil futures extended their rally Thursday, with the April contract surging above $100 a barrel, as investors spooked by supply disruptions in Libya bid the price of crude higher. In New York trade on Wednesday, oil futures climbed to an intraday high of $100 a barrel for the first time since October 2008. The United States Brent Oil ETF (NYSEArca: BNO) is up more than 2% so far today.
Gregory A. Clay contributed to this article.
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