CHICAGO — MID-MARCH FOUND THE STOCK MARKET posting its best day of the year, with the Dow Jones closing at its highest level since 2007 and the Nasdaq composite closing above 3,000 for the first time since December 2000.
While the unemployment rate held steady at 8.3%—a three-year low—the number of private-sector jobs continued to increase. With a jump of 233,000 jobs in February, more than 3.9 million jobs have been added to the U.S. workforce.
“We’ve had 24 straight months of private-sector job growth,” says Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “U.S. job growth over the last six months has been the strongest since before the recession began in 2006.” Experts say, however, that it will take another five years to gain pre-recession employment figures.
MORTGAGE APPLICATIONS WERE DOWN for the week ending March 2, decreasing 1.2% from the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Along with that news, RealtyTrac showed new foreclosures were up 2.89% from December 2011 to January 2012.
THE 12 FEDERAL RESERVE DISTRICTS reported a modest to moderate increase in overall economic activity for January and early February. According to the Federal Reserve Board, manufacturing expanded at a steady rate throughout the country, and many districts reported increases in new orders, shipments or production. Reports of consumer spending were generally positive.
On the international front, U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson said, “After increasing by over a third from 2009 to 2011, U.S. exports in 2012 began with a gain in January.” Exports for January were up 1.4% over the same period last year, translating to an increase of $2.6 billion to a total of $180.8 billion. It was the second month of export growth.
THE INSTITUTE FOR SUPPLY MANAGEMENT REPORTED GROWTH for the 26th straight month in the non-manufacturing sector, including real estate, wholesale trade mining and information, among others. According to Anthony Nieves, chair of the Institute for Supply Management Non-Manufacturing Business Survey Committee, the Non-Manufacturing Index was up half a percentage point in February, increasing from 56.8% to 57.3%.
CONSUMER CONFIDENCE REMAINED STRONG, according to the Surveys of Consumers from Thomas Reuters and the University of Michigan.
“Consumers have shrugged off concerns about rising gas prices, the European crisis, and election year politics,” says Richard Curtin, Surveys of Consumers chief economist, “preferring to focus on the favorable impact of job growth. A potential threat is that consumers expect too much too soon.”