Economy Watch: March Job Growth Sputters

The U.S. economy created only 88,000 jobs in March, which was a drop from February.

The U.S. economy created only 88,000 jobs in March, which was a drop from February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday. It was below the expectation of economists, who were fairly dismal in the forecasts for the month, and a lot less than February’s revised employment growth of 268,000 jobs.

Employment grew in professional and business services and in health care but declined in retail trade, as well as in the U.S. Postal Service. The official unemployment rate for the month come in at 7.6 percent, 0.1 percentage points lower than in February, presumably because a certain number of workers gave up looking for work.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that for the week ending March 30, initial unemployment claims were 385,000, an increase of 28,000 from the previous week. The four-week moving average, which doesn’t usually move that much, was 354,250, an unusually large increase of 11,250 from the previous week.

Retail vacancies decline slightly in Q1

Reis Inc. reported on Thursday that the average vacancy rate for U.S. regional malls dropped to 8.3 percent in first quarter of 2013, down from 8.6 percent in 4Q12. The vacancy rate for neighborhood and community centers, on the other hand, only dropped from 10.7 percent to 10.6 percent quarter-over-quarter in 1Q13.

Occupancy growth for the neighborhood and community centers has been particularly anemic recently, with a drop in vacancies of only 30 basis points since the first quarter of 2012, noted Reis. Only 873,000 square feet of such retail space was delivered in the first quarter of this year, which is very low historically speaking, but even so demand barely managed to absorb it.

Regional malls are doing better. So much so, in fact, that Reis said that asking rents rose 0.4 percent quarter-over-quarter for that kind of retail property, the eighth quarterly increase for that metric in a row. The relative health of the regional mall sector is being driven by the top-of-the-market malls that are home to luxury brands, which the recession and its aftermath have barely touched.

Single-family home rents stagnate

Trulia reported on Thursday that rents for single-family houses have leveled off nationwide, mainly because the stock of single-family rental properties has expanded to meet demand as investors have snapped them up to rent to people forced back into the rental market. The company noted that nationwide apartment rents were up 2.9 percent in March compared with the same month in 2012, while rents for single-family houses were up only 0.1 percent.

“Investors bought up cheap houses in hard-hit markets and rented them out to people who lost their homes to foreclosure or delayed first-time homeownership,” Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist, noted in a press statement. “With four million more rental homes now than during the bubble, supply has expanded to meet demand, and rents are flat or falling in markets where investors are most active.”

Wall Street apparently wasn’t nervous about the outlook for jobs on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 55.76 points, or 0.38 percent. The S&P 500 was up 0.4 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.2 percent.