Economy Watch: Investors Rush to Sell

Wall Street was feeling upset on Tuesday, with investors heading for the exits, driving stocks down the most on a single trading day so far this year.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Wall Street was feeling upset on Tuesday, with investors heading for the exits, driving stocks down the most on a single trading day so far this year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 213.66 points, or 1.65 percent, while the S&P 500 was down 1.71 percent and the Nasdaq declined 1.83 percent.

U.S. growth is now being questioned, and euro-worries seem to be back as well, and not just for American equities markets, since shares in Europe and Asia tumbled as well on Tuesday. Spanish 10-year notes briefly saw yields of 6 percent, which is widely considered unsustainable, and the sort of borrowing costs that put the much smaller Greek, Portuguese and Irish economies on the road to bailouts. There were also rumors of a downgrade of the official forecast for Italian growth, which is all it takes now to spook investors when it comes to euro-malaise.

There’s also the prospect of snap elections in Greece on May 6. The country’s two major parties—the ones that have essentially cooperated with German- and EU- and IMF-imposed austerity—are polling less than 50 percent between the two of them, raising the possibility of a new government that will abandon the nation’s commitment to austerity, and with it the euro.

BLS JOLT static in February

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Tuesday that its Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey (JOLT, a rare snappy acronym for the government) found that the number of job openings nationwide in February was 3.5 million, little changed from January. Although the number of job openings remained below the 4.3 million openings when the recession began in December 2007, job openings have increased 46 percent since the official end of the recession in June 2009 (as reckoned by the National Bureau of Economic Research, whether or not anyone felt like the recession was over).

The number of job openings in February 2012 was also up when compared to the same month last year, when the number was 3 million, including both openings for private and government positions, according to the BLS. Retail trade, health care and social assistance, and state and local government all had increases in the number of job openings year-over-year.

The number of hires in February was 4.4 million, still below the 5 million hires during Dec. 2007, but up 19 percent since June 2009. The total separations rate—voluntary quits, involuntary layoffs and discharges, and retirements—was little changed in February for private and government employment, and the “quits rate,” which can serve as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to change jobs, didn’t budget either, though at 2.1 million for February, it was up from 1.8 million in June 2009.

Zillow reports home value drop

Zillow reported on Tuesday that U.S. home values dropped 0.5 percent between January and February, or an annualized loss of 4.5 percent, to an average of $145,400. The company’s Home Value Index tracks 164 major metro areas, and among them 109 showed depreciation month-over-month, while 47 showed appreciation. The largest market to show any appreciation for the month was metro Phoenix.

According to the company, which specializes in tracking home values, low prices and low financing rates are actually spurring home sales—but not increases in prices for the most part. The sale of homes out of foreclosure is still driving prices down. Naturally, foreclosure sales make up 20.3 percent of all sales, an increase month-over-month and year-over-year, Zillow says.

Unsurprisingly, Zillow’s Rent Index recorded rental gains for U.S. residential properties. Fully 68 percent of the metro areas tracked by the index saw annual rent increases.

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