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Unemployment rate falls to 5.6%

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This morning's non-farm payrolls number shows the nation's unemployment rate falling to 5.6% from December's 5.8% level. Analysts were looking for the unemployment rate to rise to 5.9%.

For the month of January, businesses cut 89,000 jobs from their payrolls, the sixth straight monthly drop. Since March of 2000, private firms have eliminated approximately 1.8 million jobs, according to the survey of business establishments.

The Labor Department warned that the drop in the jobless rate shouldn't be given too much weight. "I would caution against reading too much into a single month's estimate for any data series, particularly in a month such as January when there are large seasonal movements that can be difficult to adjust for precisely," said Lois Orr, acting commissioner for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The percentage of unemployed workers who have been out of work for more than 15 weeks rose to 31.4% from 29.6%. The total number of hours worked fell by 0.4%. Average hours worked in manufacturing dropped 0.9%. Average hourly earnings were unchanged at $14.59.

Job losses continued in the manufacturing sector, which lost 89,000 jobs, and the construction sector lost 54,000 jobs. Automakers and other transportation equipment makers cut 24,000 jobs. However, the job losses in manufacturing were the slowest since September of 2001.

Service-producing industries added 56,000 jobs in January. Retail firms added 62,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. On an unadjusted basis, retailers cut 959,000 jobs in January, just short of the 1 million-plus typically laid off after the Christmas season.

Stock futures lower

Stock futures were holding near the unchanged level just prior to the jobless numbers and have slipped lower as pre-market action unfolds. S&P futures (sp02h) are down 3.3 points at $1,127, NASDAQ futures (nd02d) are off 9.5 points at $1,544 and Dow futures (dj02h) are down 27 points at $9,880.

UAL reports loss, but says travelers returning

UAL Corporation (NYSE:UAL) reported a 4th-quarter net loss of $308 million, or $-5.68 per share, compared with a loss of $71 million, or $-1.40 in the same period a year ago. Before special items, which included a grant payment from the U.S. government, the loss for the quarter ending December was $640 million, or $11.74 per share. Analysts had been expecting a loss of $14.96 per share. The airline said it is seeing some positive revenue trends, but expects to report a "significant" loss in the first quarter. Analysts are expecting UAL to lose $9.96 in the 1st quarter ending in March.

Jeff Bailey
Senior Market Technician
Option Investor

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