Economy Watch: Economy Adds 74,000 Jobs in December

Bureau of Labor stats show 74,000 jobs added in December. ShopperTrak reports a 2.7 percent increase in retail sales this holiday season over last, and newly released Mortgage Bankers Association survey results show an expected increase in volume for 2014.

The U.S. economy created 74,000 jobs in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday. Compare that to the a revised number of 248,000 in November. Employment increased slightly in a number of industries, but dropped in others, such as construction and information services. Job growth has averaged 182,000 per month over the previous 12 months, so the current report is considerably weaker than expected.

The official unemployment rate, which is based on a separate survey as the employment change, dropped from 7 percent in November to 6.7 percent in December; a year ago the rate was 7.6 percent. The BLS measurement of unemployment known as U-6, which includes the unemployed who are actively looking for work, but also discouraged workers and part-time workers looking for full-time work but who can’t find it, came in at 13.1 percent in December, unchanged from November. The U-6 a year ago was 14.4 percent.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that for the week ending Jan. 4, initial unemployment claims were at an annualized 330,000, a decrease of 15,000 from the previous week. The four-week moving average came in at 349,000, an unusually strong decrease of 9,750 from the previous week.

Holiday Season Sales Up

Despite the shortened holiday season and harsh early-winter weather in some parts of the country before Christmas, retailers finished the 2013 holiday season with increased sales, according to ShopperTrak this week. The company estimates that, during November and December 2013, national retail sales increased 2.7 percent compared with the same period last year.

ShopperTrak’s initial data indicates shoppers spent $265.9 billion during this period, with the 2013 holiday season marking the fourth consecutive year with positive retail sales growth, reflecting a growing economy. “As we anticipated, retailers saw a gain in sales as the economy continues to recover,” ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said in a statement.

“However, consumers took a break from shopping after Thanksgiving weekend, so retailers were pressured to offer deep discounts and promotions in the final week before Christmas to finish the holiday on a positive note,” Martin continued. “In the future, retailers who promote throughout the season will be more successful than those who take a hiatus in the week or two after Thanksgiving. Promotions in early December offer retailers an opportunity to capture sales earlier without having to offer more extensive markdowns at the end of the season.”

Commercial Mortgage Lending to Rise in ’14

Commercial and multifamily mortgage lending is expected to increase in 2014, as lenders want to place more loans than before, according to a newly released Mortgage Bankers Association survey of commercial and multifamily mortgage origination firms. An overwhelming majority — fully 91 percent of the respondents — expect originations to increase in 2014, with 48 percent expecting an increase of 5 percent or more. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) expect their own firm’s originations to increase by 5 percent or more.

“Commercial and multifamily lenders anticipate a market in which lending continues to grow and their firm gets a bigger piece of the pie,” Jamie Woodwell, MBA vice president for commercial real estate research, noted in a statement. “Borrowers’ appetites to take out new loans are expected to remain strong, but perhaps drop a bit from 2013 levels. The resulting competition to lend leads originators to expect loan risk to increase marginally in the face of moderating returns.”

Ahead of the jobs numbers, Wall Street ended the day Thursday essentially unmoved. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 17.98 points, or 0.11 percent, while the Nasdaq was down 0.23 percent. The S&P 500 managed to eke out a 0.03 percent gain.