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17-Mar2018

US markets closed higher on Friday

The US markets closed modestly higher on Friday, with the S&P 500 breaking a four-day losing streak after mostly upbeat economic data, though major indexes still suffered hefty weekly declines. Worries over the potential for global trade tensions and turmoil surrounding the Trump administration were seen keeping a lid on the upside. On the economy front, the number of job openings in the US surged to a record 6.3 million in January, showing that businesses are still eager to hire nearly nine years into an economic expansion that still appears to have plenty of momentum. About 5.6 million people were hired and 5.4 million lost their jobs in January. The share of people who left jobs on their own, known as the quits rate, was unchanged at 2.5% among private-sector employees. That number has barely budged in the past year but it's at a post-recession high, evidence that more workers feel secure enough to leave one job for another. Typically workers who move end up getting better pay. Separately, the University of Michigan consumer-sentiment index rose to 102 in March from 99.7 in February. That's the highest reading in 14 years. All of the gain in the sentiment index was driven by households with incomes in the bottom third of the distribution on a better assessment of current conditions.

Meanwhile, industrial production surged 1.1% in February, the strongest gain since last October. Manufacturing, construction and the energy sector had strong gains, more than offsetting a drop in utility output. Manufacturing output jumped 1.2% in February, the biggest gain since October. Mining output rose 4.3%, helped by strong oil and gas extraction and coal mining. The index for oil and gas extraction was about 12% higher than a year ago and was at a record level. Utility output slumped 4.7% on warmer-than-normal temperatures. Auto production rose 3.9% in February, after a 0.2% decline in the prior month. Excluding autos, manufacturing was up 1%. Output of construction equipment rose by 2.3%. Capacity utilization jumped to 78.1% in February from 77.4% in the prior month. This is the highest level since January 2015.

However, construction on new houses fell 7% in February, but housing starts are still close to a post-recession high and builders show no sign of slowing down. Housing starts declined to an annual rate of 1.24 million last month from a revised 1.33 million in January. The rate of construction in January was the highest since 2008. Permits to build new houses, meanwhile, slipped 5.7% to 1.3 million. They are still sharply higher compared to a year ago, however.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 72.85 points or 0.29 percent to 24,946.51, the Nasdaq gained 0.247 points to 7,481.99, while the S&P 500 was up by 4.68 points or 0.17 percent to 2,752.01. 


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