Yet stocks in New York pared recent losses, as a narrowed US trade deficit was seen as one positive point in a recent string of weak economic data.
Imports from Japan tumbled more than 25 per cent after its earthquake, contributing to a narrowing of the trade gap to $43.7bn (£26.7bn), down 6.7 per cent from a revised estimate of $46.8bn in March -- suggesting stronger second-quarter GDP figures than economists had expected.
The Dow Jones industrial average climbed over a percentage point to touch 12,181, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 0.46 per cent to print 2,690 during the day’s trading.
The markets shrugged off the early bad news, including a 1,000 increase in new claims for unemployment benefit. Fresh claims were up to 427,000 in the latest recorded week, despite economists’ forecasts of a drop in the numbers.
First-time claims have now been perched above the 400,000 mark for nine weeks in a row. Analysts normally associate a level below that with steady job growth.
“On the one hand this is a disappointing confirmation that the number of people continues to run above 400,000,” said Nomura Securities’ David Ressler. “But on the more encouraging front it looks like this may be a reflection of job turnover as opposed to sustained joblessness.”
Inventories rose 0.8 per cent to $447.2bn in the first month of the second quarter, below economists’ forecasts for a one per cent rise. Automotive inventories, one of the biggest categories, fell 1.3 per cent.
Sales rose to $393.5bn, the highest since June 2008. But the 0.3 per cent month-to-month rise was much less than the 1.2 per cent gain analysts had forecast.