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Ahead of Wall Street - December 6, 2012

Sheraz Mian

Thursday, December 6, 2012

We have another reassuring read on the nation’s labor market through a material drop in the weekly Jobless Claims data, which sets us up for the November non-farm payroll numbers coming out tomorrow morning. This indicates that the recent weak weakness in the labor market was mostly due to the effects of Sandy. Elsewhere, the European Central Bank meeting produced what the market was expecting – no changes to interest rates.

But the over-riding issue for the market remains the unresolved ‘Fiscal Cliff’ debate and there is no substantive development on that front at this stage. The opening positions from both sides appear to provide enough room for some sort of a compromise in the coming days. But the bottom line is that there is no ‘fresh’ initiative on either side to bridge the gap.

Jobless Claims dropped 25K last week to 370K. The four-week average, which smoothes out the week-to-week volatility, dropped by 2.3K to 408K. The Jobless Claims data is not entirely where it was before Sandy distorted it (it was in the 360K vicinity before the storm), but the storm’s effects are steadily dissipating. Overall though, the labor market appears to be in the same shape where it has been in the pre-Sandy months, with weekly jobless claims in the 350K to 400K range. The monthly jobs numbers coming out Friday morning will also likely confirm what we saw from the ADP jobs report on Wednesday. Adjusting for Sandy, the average monthly jobs rate likely remains in the 150K neighborhood at present – that has been the pace consistently this year.  

In corporate news, Lululemon (LULU) came out with better than expected results for the third quarter, but it’s guidance for the coming quarter raise doubts about the sustainability of its growth trajectory. The retailer of high-end yoga pants and other women’s athletic apparel guided towards same store sales growth in the ‘high single digits’ in the fourth quarter, which is a material climb-down from the red-hot growth pace in recent quarters.

Lululemon’s sales per square foot of retail space has been in comparable territory to such iconic brands as Apple (AAPL), Coach (COH), and Tiffany (TIF). The high-end specialty retailer had the market all to itself for a while, but Gap (GPS) has been making a determined foray into that attractive market through its Athleta brand. The location of many Athleta stores in close proximity to Lululemon’s may be just a coincidence, but there is no doubt that Gap is targeting the same audience that has loyally followed Lululemon thus far.  

Sheraz Mian
Director of Research

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