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Jobless claims on the rise

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The Labor Department said that weekly jobless claims rose 12,000 to 430,000 in the latest week, and was well above economists forecast of 403,000. The weekly rise had the four-week moving average of initial jobless claims rising by 8,750 to 408,750, which is the highest level since the week ended December 28. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed who continue to collect unemployment insurance jumped 180,000 to 3.52 million, which is the highest level since the middle of November.

While jobless claims continue to grow, workplace efficiency as measured by productivity had the Labor Department reporting it final fourth-quarter numbers, which had productivity being revised upward to 0.8% in the final three months of the year. Output rose 1.7%, more than double the gain in the preliminary release, as hours worked increased 0.9%. Productivity for the latest quarter was previously reported down 0.2%. The 0.8% upwardly revised Q4 productivity was better than economists forecast for a 0.5% gain. For all of 2002, non-farm productivity increased an upwardly revised 4.8%, which was the largest gain in annual productivity since 1950.

Later this morning at 10:00 AM EST, further economic data will be released in the form of January factory orders. Economists are forecasting a 1.8% gain.

While this morning's productivity revisions were positive, the rise in both the weekly and four-week moving average of jobless claims above the 400,000 mark, which many economists say hints of a weak labor market, sent stock futures to their lows of the session.

S&P futures (sp03h) 824.80 are currently down 4.7 points, NASDAQ futures (nd03h) are down 3 points at 985 and Dow futures (dj03h) are lower by 47 points at 7,720.

Fair value for the S&P 500 today is $-0.14. That price will not change during the session. HL Camp & Company has their computers set for program buying at $0.80 and set for program selling at $-1.62.

Retailers are hitting the wires with their February same store sales data. Some early reports have Target (NYSE:TGT) reporting a -1.4% decline, Sears (NYSE:S) reporting a -9.4% decline, Federated Department (NYSE:FD) saying sales fell -6.8% and Gap Stores (NYSE:GPS) reporting an 8% gain.

Jeff Bailey

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