Weekly Jobless Claims and Retail Sales Bring Stocks Back Up on Thursday

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Thursday will mark the start of a three-day weekend for millions of Americans who will be out for Good Friday, but the economic reports and earnings are coming out either way. There was good news again on the retail sales front after some prior disappointments, and the weekly jobless claims were quite low.

U.S. Retail sales rose by 1.6% in the month of March, better than the 1.0% gain expected by the Wall Street Journal team and even better than when compared to the Econoday consensus estimate of just a 0.8% gain. What matters about the 1.6% gain is that it inversely matched the drop from December that spooked most investors and economists about retail sales — with some weakness persisting in January and February.

Retail sales reported on an ex-autos basis came in with a 1.2% gain in March, and sales without autos and gasoline were up by 0.9% in March. Vehicle sales rose by 3.3% in March after two months of decline, and sales at gasoline stations rose by 3.5%.

Weekly jobless claims were again back under 200,000 at 192,000 last week, coming in handily better than the 206,000 Econoday consensus. The U.S. Department of Labor signaled in its weekly release that this was the lowest level for initial claims going all the way back to September 6, 1969. The prior week’s report was revised to 197,000 from 196,000. The Labor Department indicated that there were 226,090 initial claims in the comparable week in 2018.

Another area of strength was seen in the four-week moving average. The Labor Department showed that this was down by 6,000 to 201,250, and it was the lowest level for this average since November 1, 1969, when it was 200,500.

The number of continuing jobless claims, those taking benefits for two weeks or more and reported with a one-week lag, fell by 63,000 down to 1,653,000.

Stocks had been weak ahead of the economic reports and ahead of the Mueller report, but shortly before the open Dow futures were up 60 points and S&P 500 futures were up seven points. The yield on the 10-year Treasury was down almost two basis points at 2.575%.

Before getting too entrenched to only these two economic reports, note that it’s going to be a busy day on the economic reporting front. The Philly Fed business outlook and PMI Composite Flash reading for March will be out, as will business inventories and leading economic indicators. And if that wasn’t enough, the Mueller report release is today as well.

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