Published February 17, 2012
Ninety six points. That's all it would take to bring the Dow Industrials to the 13000 threshold, a level not seen since May of 2008.
Investors cheered a trio of positive economic reports Thursday. Weekly jobless claims fell to 348,000, the lowest level in just about four years, suggesting that if companies aren’t laying off as many workers, they may start hiring them. Most economists agree that a string of weekly jobless claims under 375,000 is critical to bringing down the national unemployment rate.
Wall Street also welcomed relatively benign data on inflation at the wholesale level for the month of January, as well as a jump in new home construction.
Thursday's rally was steep and broad based; the materials, financials, information technology, energy, and utilities sectors each tacked on at least 1%. Dow components Microsoft (MSFT) and Bank of America (BAC) jumped 4% each. The financial run-up was impressive, considering Moody's put several U.S. banks of watch for possible downgrade.
The S&P 500 will open today's session at its highest level in nearly 10 months, 1,358. That means the broader market has more than doubled since plummeting to its bear market low of 676 back on March 9, 2009. Over the past three years, a handful of stocks have rallied even more than that. Wyndham Worldwide is up by 1,370%; Fifth Third Bank is up 912%; and stocks including Ford, Chipotle, and Coach are all up more than 500% in three years.
Mortgage rates hit another record low last week of 3.87%. On this same day last year, the 30-year fixed rate was 5%, and has stayed below that for the past 52 weeks. That's part of the reason why many would-be homeowners are putting off locking in a mortgage: they expect rates to fall even further.
At the same time, mortgage delinquency rates are down. The Mortgage Bankers Association says the delinquency rate on home loans fell to 7.58% at the end of last year. That's far from the record high of 10% back in 2010, but also far from the "normal" delinquency rate of 1.1%.
RealtyTrak expects foreclosures to spike 25% this year as about one million properties are taken back by banks.
Still, builders see reason to be optimistic. Groundbreaking on new homes rose in January and housing starts rose to an annual rate of 699,000 last month, according to the Commerce Department, up 1.5% from December.