Stocks are suffering a little post-Patrick's Day hangover. Markets around the world settled in negative territory. Most of the economic data out this morning was benign but investors are still worried about Greece. This sent the euro lower and boosted the dollar. Crude oil is down 1.1% near $81.98 a barrel. Gold futures are up almost $3.00 to $1,126.90 an ounce.
Asian markets were down across the board with investors back to worrying about China tightening their monetary policy. The Chinese Shanghai index lost 0.14%. The Hong Kong Hang Seng fell 0.25%. The Japanese NIKKEI fell 0.95%. Across the globe in Europe investors were once again facing their fears about Greece. In spite of all the meetings lately by EU finance ministers it seems that Greece won't receive any aid from the EU in time. The country might be forced to seek help from the IMF over the Easter weekend. Farther north in the U.K. investors digested news that British factory orders and business sentiment are falling. The English FTSE closed down 0.21%. The German DAX lost 0.47%. The French CAC-40 declined 0.65%.
Here in the U.S. we had a number of economic reports with the CPI, weekly jobless claims, the LEI and the trade deficit numbers. The consumer price index (CPI), a measure of inflation at the consumer level, was pretty tame. The Labor Department said the CPI was unchanged in February thanks to a drop in energy prices. Excluding the more volatile food and energy categories the CPI came at +0.1%, which was in-line with estimates.
The weekly jobless numbers were released this morning. The Labor Department announced that new claims for unemployment fell 5,000 to 457,000, which was pretty much in-line with analysts' estimates of 455,000. The four-week average came in around 471,000. The number of workers currently claiming unemployment benefits is up to 4.58 million but those are only the normal unemployment benefits. If you included workers unemployed for more than 26 weeks the total number receiving benefits is more than 11 million.
Unfortunately it doesn't look like businesses are going to be hiring any time soon. The Conference Board issued their index of leading economic indicators (LEI) this morning, which is supposed to forecast business activity three to six months ahead. The LEI numbers rose +0.1% in February. This was the eleventh month in a row the LEI produced a gain but it was also the smallest gain. That doesn't bode well for the summer months.
Meanwhile the Commerce Department said the U.S. trade deficit widened in the fourth quarter but the gap for all of 2009 had hit multi-year lows.
Elsewhere President Obama was making headlines as he signed a $17.6 billion jobs bill we've been hearing about the last couple of weeks. The administration is feeling pressured to do something about the stubbornly high unemployment numbers. This new bill would exempt businesses from paying the 6.2% payroll tax on any new employees, who were previously unemployed. If these employees are still on the job one-year later the businesses get a $1,000 tax credit.
Currently the stock market is trying to bounce back from their lows of the session. The S&P 500 is down less than five points at 1162. The NASDAQ composite is nearly unchanged on the day around 2388. The Dow Industrials are up about 28 points near 10,761. The Russell 2000 is off less than two points near 682.
Chart of the S&P 500:
Chart of the NASDAQ:
Chart of the Dow Industrials:
Chart of the Russell 2000 index: