There are just 10 days left in the first quarter, and stocks have seen a remarkable run. The broader market, as measured by the S&P 500, is up 12% in the quarter.
Stock futures are looking soft again early Thursday, however, despite more encouraging news on the jobs front. Weekly jobless claims fell by 5,000 last week to a four-year low. Futures on the Dow are down about 50 points.
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On Wednesday there was a slight pullback, with the Dow down 45 points and the S&P 500 down 2, while the Nasdaq added a point, ending at a fresh 11-year high.
Sales of previously-owned homes came in at an annual rate of 4.59 million last month. Wall Street was hoping for a stronger number. Still, there's optimism that the housing market is showing small signs of improvement, particularly with the warmer-than-average weather across the nation.
In addition to housing, gas prices are another major drag on the U.S. economy. The national average has now risen to $3.88 for a gallon of regular unleaded, approaching the all-time high of $4.11.
BMO Capital Markets says that $4 gas - and maybe even $5 gas - is a possibility. Their analysts say that if gas prices did indeed hit $5 a gallon there would be a major trickle-down effect on the economy. National unemployment would shoot back up past 9%; GDP would be cut a full percentage point to 1.5%; the retail industry would see a downturn, with stores from Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Dollar General (NYSE:DG) to Macy's (NYSE:M) and Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) feeling a direct effect.