NEW YORK -- It’s only a few days into May, but already investors have seen one surprise after another, as the Dow Jones industrial average passed 15,000 for the first time Friday on the strength of a better-than-expected jobs report.
The S&P 500, a broader market index, pushed past 1,600 after hitting an all-time high on Thursday.
Friday's jobs report showed employers adding 165,000 net new jobs in April, meaning that employers have added, on average, a respectable 212,000 jobs in the last three months.
“It’s a Goldilocks report in that you have a moderately growing economy, that’s not growing so fast that the Feds will be tightening interest rates, but isn’t growing so slow that the inflation risks are high,” said Michael Gapen, director of U.S. economic research at Barclays.
The job numbers soothed investors after a few less-than-stellar data reports, including lackluster growth in first-quarter gross domestic product, and regional manufacturing numbers that showed that sector was slowing. Investors had been worried about the potential effects of sequestration on jobs and consumer spending. But spending has remained strong, as higher home prices and stock prices have helped people retain wealth.
Investors are happy enough with the policies of central banks in the U.S. and Europe that they will continue to put money into markets in those countries, Gapen said, rather than diverting it to emerging economies. The Federal Reserve has showed no sign of slowing its easy money policies, pumping money into the U.S. economy and making borrowing cheaper.
“The outlook is still favorable for equities,” Gapen said.
The market has been on a surprising tear of late. The Dow finished April up 13.3% for the year, and the S&P 500 was up 12% for the year. Many companies in the S&P could post record per-share earnings this year, which could then feed back into the economy, boost investors' wallets and create more spending.
Companies including Kraft Foods Group Inc., American International Group Inc. and Comscore Inc. all saw healthy gains in stock prices after releasing earnings reports late Thursday and early Friday.
AIG, which received a bailout during the financial crisis, saw its first-quarter profit fall 31%, but the company still performed better than analysts had expected. Shares were up 5.5% to 44.45 in mid-session trading.
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