Stocks rose Thursday following a decline in weekly jobless claims as businesses gradually rehired workers amid easing pandemic-induced restrictions.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 38 points, or 0.12%, to 31,476, the S&P 500 was up 0.27% and the Nasdaq gained 0.56%. The Dow closed at a record high Wednesday.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that 793,000 Americans filed for first-time jobless benefits in the week ended Feb. 6, down from an upwardly revised 812,000 claims the week earlier. Economists polled by FactSet had expected claims of 757,000.
“(Thursday’s) report is more evidence that we are still far from a completely healed labor market,” said Indeed Hiring Lab economist AnnElizabeth Konkel.
“Total initial claims (non-seasonally adjusted) ticked lower this week to just a bit above 1 million. That is movement in the right direction, but total initial claims need to fall below 1 million and continue to steadily decline for there to be substantial labor market improvement,” Konkel added.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell issued the same message Wednesday when in a speech he said the U.S. labor market was a “long way” from a recovery.
“We are still very far from a strong labor market whose benefits are broadly shared,” Powell said Wednesday in a speech before the Economic Club of New York. “Achieving and sustaining maximum employment will require more than supportive monetary policy.”
Powell’s speech was made as President Joe Biden and Democrats push a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that likely will be passed without support from lawmakers on the Republican side.
The size of the stimulus package and a ramp up in consumer spending when coronavirus lockdowns ease have Wall Street closely watching for signs of inflation.
Nancy Davis, founder of Quadratic Capital Management, said while data on U.S. consumer prices weren’t showing an increase in inflation now, it’s “on its way thanks to fiscal and monetary stimulus and pent-up consumer demand that should intensify as the economy reopens.”
Oil prices traded slightly lower Thursday after crude put in its longest run of gains in two years. West Texas intermediate crude oil, the U.S. benchmark, was down 0.14% to $58.60 a barrel on Thursday.