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David Becker

US stocks were higher on Thursday, following news that China would reduce tariffs on $75 billion of U.S. imports by 50% as part of its efforts to implement phase one of the trade agreement between the US and China. The Nasdaq was the best performing major index, rising 0.67%, while the Russell 2000 declined. Tesla continued it wild ride, first declining by another 10% and then rallying to close up 5%. Sectors in the S&P 500 index were mixed, led higher by communication as Alphabet rebounded from disappointing earnings earlier in the week.

Energy shares were the worst-performing sector losing 1.2%, despite small rallies in both crude oil and natural gas. The VIX volatility index edged lower and is now hovering near the 200-day moving average at 15. Despite the continued spread of the coronavirus, and the likely decline in economic activity globally, US stocks continue to rise and volatility is moderating. US Jobless claims fell more than expected and productivity rebounded in the latest quarter.

China Will Cut Tariffs

The Chinese government announced that on February 14, China will cut tariffs on some U.S. goods to 5% from 10%, while levies on some other items will be reduced to 2.5% from 5. The tariffs were imposed in September and December during the height of the trade war. The US has already described its plans to reduce the tariff rate on certain imports from China that have been penalized in the trade war, although most tariffs will remain.


Productivity Rebounds


US nonfarm productivity, increased at a 1.4% annualized rate last quarter, according to the US Labor Department. Productivity decreased at an unrevised 0.2% pace in the Q3, the biggest drop since the fourth quarter of 2015. Expectations were for productivity to rebound at a 1.6% rate in the Q4. Compared to the Q4 of 2018, productivity increased at a 1.8% rate. It accelerated by 1.7% in 2019, the strongest since 2010, after increasing 1.3% in 2018. Productivity increased at an average annual rate of 1.3% from 2007 to 2019,


Jobless Claims Fall More than Expected

US jobless claims fell 15,000 to 202,000 for the week ended February 1 according to the Labor Department. This is the lowest reading since April 2019. Claims data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported. Expectations had been for claims to dip slightly to 215,000.  The four-week moving average of initial claims, fell 3,000 to 211,750 last week, also the lowest level since last April.

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