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The Numbers: Positive Outlook for Unemployment, Consumer Spending, GDP

CHICAGO — JANUARY’S UNEMPLOYMENT RATE dropped to 8.3%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the lowest since February 2009.

“The economy added 257,000 private-sector jobs last month, exceeding expectations,” says Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “These numbers show that the labor market continues on a positive trajectory.

In response to the positive numbers, the Dow Jones jumped the day after the announcement while the Nasdaq index reached a level that hasn’t been seen since December 2000.

THE FEDERAL RESERVE DISTRICTS reported modest growth for December, indicating ongoing improvement in the country’s economy. Consumer spending increased in most of the 12 districts, showing strong holiday sales compared to that of 2010, and activity expanded in the travel and tourist sector as well.

THE GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT for 2011’s fourth quarter rose 2.8%, as estimated by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. The figure was up from 1.8% in the third quarter. Overall, the 2011 GDP grew 1.7%, which reflects growth in several key economic sectors.

“Today’s report is another indication that our economy is moving in the right direction and we are gaining strength,” says U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson, noting advances in exports and personal consumption. “But we cannot afford to give up the gains we have made. Our work is far from over, and we must remain focused on the elements of an economy that is built to last—American manufacturing, American energy, and education and training for American workers.”

THE MORTGAGE BANKERS ASSOCIATION reports applications were down for the week ending Jan. 27. The seasonally adjusted numbers dropped 2.9% from the previous week. The association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey also showed that refinance activity decreased slightly from the previous week.

ANOTHER POSITIVE comes out of the Institute for Supply Management’s Non-Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, as it reported growth in the January economic activity of the non-manufacturing sector. “The NMI registered 56.8% in January, 3.8 percentage points higher than the seasonally adjusted 53% registered in December, and indicating continued growth at a faster rate in the non-manufacturing sector,” says Anthony Nieves, the committee chair.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE INCREASED as a result of the positive January employment numbers, according to Surveys of Consumers from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan.

“The recent gains in confidence are now critically dependent on continued job gains,” says Richard Curtin, Surveys of Consumers chief economist. “As long as modest employment gains are forthcoming, the data suggest real consumer spending will post a 2.1% gain in 2012.”


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