Good news on the U.S. economy stops the global selloff in its tracks.
The Dow Industrials avoided their first four-day losing streak of the year, jumping 180 points and closing back above 15,000. The Nasdaq gained 44 points, and the S&P 500 added 23.
Before the open, it looked like the losses would continue, following another big selloff in Japan. The benchmark Nikkei Index plunged more than 6 percent overnight, pushing it into bear market territory –- down 20 percent from its high.
But some positive economic data managed to stop the bleeding.
The Labor Department reported that 12,000 fewer Americans filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week. Jobless claims are now close to their lowest levels since 2007, indicating that hiring may start picking up.
Consumer spending also seems to be gathering steam. Retail sales jumped 0.6 percent in May, after just a slight increase in April.
At the NYSE, investors turned up their noses at Coty's debut. The company makes perfumes for Calvin Klein, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, among others. But the stock lost 1 percent on its first day, amid concerns that Coty may face heavy competition and a decline in discretionary spending.
On the M&A front, Gannett is buying Belo for about $1.5 billion dollars. The deal will nearly double Gannett's television portfolio, making it the nation's fourth-largest owner of major network affiliates. Gannett surged 34 percent on the news, while Belo jumped more than 28 percent.
Meanwhile, shares of Safeway gained 7.5 percent on word that it's selling off its Canadian operations. The buyer is Sobeys, and the price tag is $5.7 billion.
Among blue chips, Caterpillar, Merck and Pfizer were among the biggest winners. But DuPont lost ground after saying that its earnings this year will come in at the low end of previous forecasts.
And finally, Apple may be trying to take a bite out of the smartphone competition. Reuters cited sources who say the company will roll out two new iPhones in the next year. One may be cheaper than the current models and available in different colors, while the other could have a larger screen.
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Closing Bell: Upbeat U.S. Economic Data Stops Global Selloff
Nationally, the average gas price hit a recent high of $3.74 per gallon, nearly $0.50 higher than it was on Jan. 1. According to website GasBuddy.com, that's about a 14 percent increase since the start of the year.
The start of the new year also marked the end of the temporary 2 percentage point tax break on Social Security contributions. Once that part of President Obama's stimulus package expired, your paychecks went back to being 2 percent smaller. For the average family, that adds up to about $1,000 a year.
That same "average family," by the way, already earns only about $50,000 a year today. And according to CNN, that's about $4,000 less than you were earning in 2000.
A disconcerting report from Sallie Mae last week showed that about one-third of Americans working toward retirement are having to raid their retirement savings to pay for their kids' college educations.
According to a poll commissioned by Bankrate.com (RATE) in February, only 55 percent of Americans have enough money tucked away in their savings accounts and "emergency funds" to cover the amounts owed on their credit cards.
That Bankrate poll also revealed that among women in particular, 51 percent actually owe more on their credit cards than they have cash in the bank. Digging deeper into the data, Bankrate reported that while high earners are doing well, and generally flush, most people (59 percent) who earn less than $30,000 annually owe more on their cards than they have in savings. And these are the people least able to afford the high cost of credit card interest.
Speaking of earnings -- and jobs -- the same unemployment report that set Wall Street to cheering Friday can be looked at from a glass half empty perspective as well. The new, lower unemployment level of 7.7 percent is the best number we've seen since the Great Recession ended. However, The Wall Street Journal points out that 7.7 percent is very close to the worst unemployment ever got (7.8 percent) in the 1991 recession. Our best number in years is within a whisker of the worst they faced back then.
The overall workforce participation rate -- the percentage of Americans currently earning wages at all -- currently stands at just 63.5 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that's much worse than what we saw in the 1991 recession. It's the lowest we've seen since the recession that hit during the Carter administration.
Little wonder, then, that according to the Bankrate survey, people are increasingly concerned about "job security." Friday's unemployment report may suggest that the jobs market is on the mend, but most people (59 percent) say they feel no more or less confident in their employment situation today than they did a year ago. Among those polled whose opinions have changed, 23 percent said they feel "less secure today" than they did a year ago, versus 19 percent who feel more secure.
That doesn't exactly jibe with the story that things are getting better.
It's great news for folks who own stocks, no doubt, and according to the Journal , more than 90 percent of people earning $100,000 or more do. But what about the rest of us? Fewer than 46 percent of Americans earning less than $50,000 are invested in the stock market -- and remember, "$50,000" is the average income in America today.
So yes, It turns out for the average American, things may not be getting better at all.