By Carlos Guillen
Equity markets continue making efforts to surpass psychological levels of resistance, but there just isn't enough momentum to do so at the moment. The worst bit of news today was the worse than expected drop in economic activity in the euro-area. However, here at home employment data gave some motivation and encouragement to get into stocks.
Initial Claims data posted earlier today was very encouraging, as it showed a sharper than expected drop in the number of people filing for unemployment benefits. According to the Department of Labor, initial claims during the week ended February 9 totaled 341,000, decreasing from the 368,000 revised figure reported for the prior week and landing below the Street's estimate of 365,000. Now that we are well past the effects of Sandy and Christmas, we can expect to see a much clearer trend in the employment arena. The initial claims' four-week moving average was 352,500, increasing from the prior week's average of 351,000. This metric is showing that we are reaching some stability at the moment. As it stands, economists estimate that initial claims below 350,000 a week indicate strong job growth, and the moving average is just about there. However, it is becoming apparent that the jobs market is reaching a point of stagnation, where there are less layoffs but there is also less hiring.
Over in the euro-area, the recession deepened more than economists had expected, with its economy achieving the worst performance in almost four years as the region's three biggest economies suffered slumping output. Gross domestic product (GDP) fell in the euro-area by 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter from the previous three months, demonstrating a sharper drop than the 0.4 percent decline economists expected, representing the worst result since the first quarter of 2009 in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. The main economies in the regions, Italy, Germany, and, France were down 0.9%, 0.6%, and 0.3% quarter-over-quarter, respectively. The decline in the region comes after serious efforts to cut spending to save the zone's currency after piling on vast levels of debt.
The effects of the few bits of data out today have been mixed. We saw a sharp drop in the Dow at the start of the session, but it managed to recover as the session progressed, only to fall in the red again. At the moment the Dow is down close to 20 points, but it appears to be on its way up ... again.