Despite the holiday-shortened trading week, domestic equities managed to recapture virtually all of the ground lost the week before--and more important, the gains were across the board. Even the tech and biotech sectors that have suffered recently showed signs of stabilization, while the S&P 500 managed to return to positive territory for the year.
Last Week's Headlines
- Springtime for retail: Shoppers emerged from hibernation and returned to stores again in March, according to the Commerce Department. Retail sales rose 1.1% from February, and were 3.8% higher than in March 2013. Auto sales were up 3.4% for the month and up 9.5% from March 2013. The figures were hailed as confirmation that frigid winter weather was a major factor in previous months' sluggish sales.
- China's economy grew 7.4% over the last year, according to the country's National Bureau of Statistics. That represents a slowing from the previous quarter's annualized 7.7% rate, and is slightly below the targeted 7.5% growth for all of 2014. It also represents the nation's slowest quarterly growth in 18 months. Chinese officials said weaker winter demand from the United States for exports and a sluggish housing market were major factors in the decline.
- Consumer prices rose 0.2% in March, helping to cut the inflation rate for the last 12 months slightly to 1.5%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the biggest increases were seen in the costs of food and shelter. Grocery prices overall were up .5% for the month and 1.7% for the year, while restaurant prices are up 2.3% since March 2013. The 2.7% increase in the cost of shelter since last March in part reflects rising home prices. Meanwhile, energy costs declined 0.1% in March, led by a 1.7% drop in gas prices.
- Housing starts improved in March, rising 2.8%, but were nevertheless almost 6% lower than March 2013. The Commerce Department said building permits--an indicator of future activity--fell 2.4% for the month but were more than 11% higher than the previous March.
- U.S. industrial production grew 0.7% in March, driven largely by mining and the utilities sector. Also, the Federal Reserve revised February's 0.7% gain upward to 1.2%; it was the highest monthly growth rate in almost four years. The increases represent an annualized 4.4% growth rate in Q1. Meanwhile, the Fed's April Empire State manufacturing survey slipped 4 points to 1.3, but the Philly Fed's survey for the month rose from 9.0 to 16.6, its highest reading since last September and the second consecutive month of gains.
- The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the federal government's cost of expanding health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act (primarily from providing insurance premium subsidies) will be $36 billion in 2014--roughly 12% less than the amount predicted in February--and almost 7% ($100 billion) less than the $1,487 billion previously estimated for the next 10 years.
- The weekly earnings of full-time American workers during the first quarter were 3% higher than a year earlier; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that's the fastest annual growth since 2008 and was more than double the 1.4% increase in the Consumer Price Index over the last 12 months. The report said the increase put inflation-adjusted median weekly earnings at $796, their highest level since Q2 2012.
Eye on the Week Ahead
Data on home sales and manufacturing could suggest whether a spring rebound is in store. Many of the major Nasdaq tech companies will release Q1 earnings, which could influence whether last week's rally shows some ongoing strength.
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