U.S. and World News
- The first known case of Zika virus transmission in the U.S. was reported this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This follows the World Health Organization’s declaration that the outbreak of the virus in South and Central America, which has caused serious birth defects, is an international health emergency. This was the fourth time the WHO has proclaimed a global health threat since 2007. Previously thought to only be transmitted by certain mosquitoes, the discovery that the U.S. case of the virus was sexually transmitted is an alarming development. Several large pharmaceutical companies have announced projects to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus.
- The United Nations has suspended Syria peace talks in Geneva until later this month, after Syrian government forces (backed by Russian air strikes) escalated an offensive by cutting off rebel supply lines. The Syrian civil war has killed 250,000 people over five years and forced millions of other to flee their homes, creating a growing migrant crisis in Europe.
- The monumental Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed in New Zealand this week by ministers from its 12 member nations. However, the massive trade pact will still require years of negotiations before it becomes a reality as the deal will undergo a two year ratification period in which the final text must be agreed upon before implementation. The deal faces challenges in the U.S. as more members of Congress have pulled support for the deal as a way to strengthen their re-election bids. A vote on the deal in Congress isn’t expected to take place until after the elections in November.
- Markets continued their volatility this week, reacting particularly poorly to the monthly jobs report. The S&P 500 fell 3.04% and closed at 1,880. Likewise, the Dow Jones dropped 1.54% and closed at 16,205. So far in 2016, the S&P is down 7.85% and the Dow is down 6.84%.
- Interest rates continued to slide lower this week. The 5 year and 10 year U.S. Treasury Notes are now yielding 1.25% and 1.85%, respectively.
- The spot price of WTI Crude Oil fell 7.70% this week to close at $31.03 per barrel. WTI Crude has fallen 16.23% in 2016.
- The spot price of Gold advanced 4.97% this week, closing at $1,173.83 per ounce. Year to date, gold prices are up 10.62%.
- Initial jobless claims came in at 285,000 which was an increase from last week’s reading of 278,000. The Labor Department noted no special factors in the data. The four week moving average for claims now stands at 284,750.
- The January non-farm payrolls report showed a gain of 151,000 in the month, lower than consensus estimates of 190,000. December and November’s figures were revised down a combined 2,000 jobs, bringing the 3 month average job gains to 231,000.
- The headline unemployment rate fell to 4.9%, better than expectations that it would remain at 5.0%. However, the labor force participation rate ticked up to 62.7% from last month’s 62.6%.
- Average hourly earnings showed an increase of 0.5% in January, beating estimates of 0.3% growth. This may reflect the effects of several states raising the minimum wage on January 1st. Wage growth over the last 12 months now stands at 2.5%.
- The PCE price index (measure of inflation) fell -0.1% in December, lower than the forecast that prices would remain flat. The Core PCE (excludes food & energy, Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) only rose 0.04% compared to forecasts for 0.1% growth, continuing the trend of subdued inflation. Over the last 12 months, core PCE inflation has risen 1.4%.
Fact of the Week
- The average price of gasoline nationwide as of 2/5/16 was $1.76 per gallon. The average price of gas in 1966 (50 years ago) was $0.32 per gallon. After adjusting for inflation over the last 50 years, the $0.32 price in 1966 is equivalent to $2.38 in 2016 dollars, meaning today’s real (inflation adjusted) price of gas is 26% cheaper than 50 years ago. (Sources: AAA, Department of Labor)
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