On the heels of yesterday's surprisingly strong retail sales report comes word that U.S. exports narrowed our international trade deficit last month—that's good for growth—and jobless claims moved lower last week after spiking a couple of weeks ago. The Commerce Department reported a smaller-than-expected trade deficit in January of $58.8 billion vs. the $62 billion that analysts were looking for. The Commerce Department also said that after five years of expansion, the trade deficit declined by 6.2 percent in 2007 to $711.6 billion. The numbers show one benefit of a weaker dollar: U.S. exports have soared 12.7 percent last year to an all-time high of $1.62 trillion.
The Labor Department, meanwhile, said that in the week ending February 9, the number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment claims fell by 9,000 to 348,000. But while these numbers suggest that job creation has not ground to a halt, they don't dispel the notion that we are in a slow job market: Weekly jobless claims are at an average of 335,000 a week in 2008 so far, compared with 322,000 for all of 2007 and 313,000 in 2006.