Jobless claims for the week ended March 1 came in better-than-expected, down 26,000 to 323,000, according to the Labor Department. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has been on the rise in recent weeks. The positive report on the job market comes just one day ahead of the monthly employment report. Economists expect to see an improvement in the number of jobs created in February after disappointing reports in December and January.
While this morning’s jobless claims report was encouraging, a separate report showed a decline in worker productivity. Fourth-quarter productivity fell to 1.8%, below economists’ expectations of 1.9% and down from the 3.2% the government had previously reported for the quarter.
The European Central Bank and the Bank of England each held key interest rates steady as expected at record-low rates near zero. The Bank of England also held its quantitative easing policy steady.
One of the United States’ central bankers, meanwhile, issued another ominous warning that the markets are headed down a dangerous road. Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher in a speech last night in Mexico City warned that the Fed’s quantitative easing has overstayed its welcome. "I fear that we are feeding imbalances similar to those that played a role in the run-up to the financial crisis," Fisher said in remarks to the Association of Mexican Banks. He also noted that when it comes to the stock market, the price-to-projected forward earnings, price-to-sales ratios and market capitalization as a percentage of GDP, are at levels not seen since the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. In the associated video, Yahoo Finance Editor in Chief Aaron Task weighs in on whether or not investors should be concerned based on Fisher’s comments and his track record with predictions like these.
Another cautionary tale reported this morning: subprime lending is making a comeback. The Wall Street Journal reports a crop of new lenders is jumping into the subprime personal-loan market. In the above video, Yahoo Finance’s Lauren Lyster and Aaron Task discuss whether this is a worrisome sign or not.
Among the stocks the Yahoo Finance team will be watching for you today: Staples (SPLS). The company’s stock was sharply lower in early trading after the retailer reported disappointing earnings and revenue results for the most recent quarter and warned current quarter estimates will be well below Wall Street targets as well. The company also said it will close 225 stores by the end of 2015. CEO Ron Sargent said nearly half the company's business is now generated online. Store traffic was down 6% for the quarter.
Shares of Costco (COST) were also down in early trading on disappointing results in its fiscal second quarter. Earnings and revenue both missed on disappointing non-food sales and lower international profits. Revenue rose 6%, but just missed Wall Street estimates. The company said total same store sales rose 5% for the quarter, excluding currency fluctuations.
The Securities and Exchange Commission busted a Ponzi scheme being promoted on Facebook and Twitter. The SEC froze the accounts held by Fleet Mutual Wealth and MWF Financial. Officials say Mutual Wealth promised returns of between 2% and 3% per week for their investors, but actually moved customer money to offshore accounts held by shell companies.
In our poll today: Would you take investment advice from a firm you found on Twitter, Facebook or other social media? Cast your vote and post your comments as well.