Sony's Entertainment CEO steps down, the U.S. trade deficit remains steady, and the jobs report comes out with some encouraging news.
Another Day, Another Record Stocks Closing
A welcomed improvement in the initial claims for unemployment benefits propelled the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to a new all-time closing high on Thursday in advance of Friday’s employment report. The S&P 500 rose 3.22 points to close at 1,877.03. The benchmark index also hit a new intraday high of 1,881.94. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 61.71 points to 16,421.89, while the NASDAQ composite index fell 5.85 points to 4,352.13. Stocks have surged in recent days as tensions in the Ukraine crisis have receded. Jobless claims fell to a three-month low last week, an indication that fewer workers are being laid off.
Household Wealth Up 14 Percent
Surging stocks and recovering home values lifted the net worth of American households and nonprofits by nearly $10 trillion to $80.7 trillion at the end of 2013, the Federal Reserve reported. This is a 14 percent increase from the previous year. More than half of the increase came from stocks, while real estate values rose $2.3 trillion. Household wealth reflects the value of homes, stocks, bank accounts and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts. In 2013, Americans finally regained the $10.6 trillion in wealth lost in the economic collapse, during which household wealth bottomed at $57.2 trillion in 2008. While the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own 80 percent of stocks and have benefited most from the rebound, the good news stands to buoy the economy as people tend to spend more when the economic news is good.
Staples Files Away 225 Stores
Staples on Thursday became the second major chain this week to announce the mass closing of stores. The nation’s largest office-supply company said that nearly half of its sales are generated online and aims to close up to 225 locations, or more than 10 percent of its North American stores by the end of 2015. On Tuesday, Radio Shack announced plans to pull the plug on 1,100 of its stores, one-fifth of its U.S. locations. Staples has 1,846 stores in North America and Canada, the vast majority in the United States. The company has increased the number of products available on its website five-fold in the past year.
Jobs Report Both Good and Bad
The Bureau of Labor Statistics report Friday said there was a better than expected growth of 175,000 jobs in February, better than the 149,000 jobs that were expected from economists. But the unemployment rate boosted slightly higher to 6.7 percent. The job growth expectation numbers kept growing from an original estimate of 113,000 to 129,000 to 149,000 and still the numbers released by the BLS topped those. Still, February’s numbers don’t put growth at the level it was last year at this time when job creation reached 189,000 for the month. A separate measure of unemployment, which includes discouraged and underemployed workers, dropped slightly from 12.7 percent to 12.6 percent. The number of people without jobs for 27 weeks or longer grew 203,000 to 3.8 million.
US Trade Deficit Remains Steady
A rebound in exports matched an increase in imports, so that the U.S. trade deficit remained little changed in January. The U.S. Commerce Department said Friday the trade deficit was at $39.1 billion from December’s revised shortfall of $39.0 billion. January’s trade gap numbers matched expectations by economists polled by Reuters. When adjusted for inflation, the trade gap dipped to $48.5 billion in January from $49.2 billion in December. In January, exports increased 0.6 percent to $192.5 billion. Exports to China fell 20.8 percent in January as the trade between the two world powers remains a topic of political concern. Imports from China were up 1.7 percent.
Sony Official Steps Down
Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Jack Tretton will leave his position at the end of March, a company press release stated Friday. Sony Network Entertainment International COO Shawn Layden will take Tretton's place on April 1. Tretton was a part of the team that launched Sony’s first PlayStation back in 1995, and has been in the SCEA division since. He was promoted to CEO in 2006. "Working at SCEA for the past 19 years has been the most rewarding experience of my career," Tretton said in the press release. "Although I will deeply miss the talented team at SCEA and the passion demonstrated every day by our fans, I'm very excited about starting the next chapter of my career." There were no details regarding Tretton’s future employment plans.