There was quite a bit of data for investors to digest last week. The unrest in Libya kept oil prices above 100 dollars a barrel. The manufacturing sector grew at its fastest pace in 7 years. However, it was all about jobs.
In February the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent – with strong job gains in manufacturing, business, services, and health care. African-American unemployment dipped to 15.3 percent. Black teen unemployment declined sharply to 38.4 percent, but remains the highest of any group. In the week ahead, investors expect reports on small business, retail sales and consumer credit.
We’ll check the pulse of small businesses with the February sentiment survey from the NFIB. In January, the optimism index rose 1.5 points to a 94.1 reading.. the highest in 3 years, but small businesses are still reluctant to hire and buy new equipment.
We’ll get a read on the economy with the February retail sales report which tracks food, clothing, and auto sales. In January, sales rose less than expected, up only 3/10th of 1 percent as the winter snow storms likely resulted in fewer people dining out and purchasing building materials.
We’ll gain insight on consumer finances with the Janaury consumer credit report – which tracks auto, credit card and student loans. In December, consumer credit rose by 6 billion dollars driven by an increase in auto loans. Americans carry more than 2.4 trillion dollars of debt.