Jobless Data Shows U.S. Decoupling

This morning’s economic data is giving investors the clearest possible evidence of divergence in global economic growth outlook, with the U.S. economy decoupling from Europe and China. We have another better-than-expected read on Initial Jobless Claims in the U.S., while readings of the manufacturing sector in China and Europe show contraction.

The surprise factor in the European slowdown is limited since that region is widely believed to be already in a recession, but I suspect that today’s soft Chinese manufacturing data will remain front and center and trump the favorable domestic labor market report.

The preliminary Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for March created by HSBC Bank (HBC) shows a slippage from last month’s level. The index dropped to 48.1 in March from February’s 49.6, both below the critical 50 level indicating manufacturing contraction.

China’s official PMI data has been a bit stronger than the HSBC readings in the last few months, but the overall softening trend is nevertheless there. A number of other measures about China, such as export and bank lending numbers, have also been pointing in that direction. While the slowdown is becoming fairly obvious, we should keep in mind that the country’s fiscal and monetary firepower provide it with the flexibility to not let the softening trend become anything more than speed bump.

On the home front, initial Jobless Claims came in better than expected last week – down 5K to 348K from 353K. The prior week’s tally modestly revised up from the originally reported 351K level to 353K. The four-week average, which smoothes out the week-to-week fluctuation, dropped by 1250 to 355K.

The strong Jobless Claims showing is consistent with the labor market recovery that we witnessed in the February non-farm payroll report. We should continue to see 200K+ monthly jobs numbers in the coming months as long as this trend continues, which is a huge positive for the U.S. economy.

In corporate news, FedEx (FDX) came out with better than expected earnings on broadly in-line top-line results this morning. The package delivery giant guided towards current quarter earnings that are a bit on the weaker side. The company’s EPS guidance for the May quarter is for a range of $1.75 to $2, which compares to the current Zacks Consensus of $1.98.

We also have a better than expected earnings reports from discount retailer Dollar General (DG). Lululemon (LULU), the yoga pants maker, also came ahead of expectations, but provided weak guidance.

— Zacks Investment Research

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