Retail Sales Figures Climb and Amazon Raises Prime Fee

Weekly initial jobless claims figures and retail sales numbers for the month of February were released today. Last week's jobless claims fell to 315,000 from the revised 324,000 figure two weeks ago. Economists had predicted the figure to be 330,000, right about were the four-week moving average now sits at 330,500. Retail sales for February rose 0.3%, while January's figure was revised downward to a decline of 0.6%. Economists were predicting February sales to increase by 0.2% as much of the country was hit with more winter storms during the month.   

Both reports indicate that the economy may again be strengthening, but the markets aren't taking the news that way today. As of 1 p.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  )  was down 163 points, or 1%, the S&P 500 was off by 0.87% and the NASDAQ had lost 1.2%.

Shares of Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) were up 1% after the company announced it was increasing the annual membership price for the Amazon Prime service from $79 to $99. Analysts have been sounding off on this change all morning, most arguing the extra $20 will not drive away masses of Prime customers from their free two-day shipping and video streaming. The incremental revenue increase here could be substantial and will likely head right down to the bottom line. My colleague Alex Dumortier estimated earlier today that Amazon could see $450 million in extra annual earnings from the measly $20 increase. That would certainly help with the company's valuation and help quiet Amazon's critics.  

RadioShack (NYSE: RSH  ) is up 2.8% this afternoon after new Executive Vice President and CFO John Feray bought 100,000 shares in a strong showing of confidence in the company and its stock. Investors often watch whether insiders are buying or selling shares as a clue to how well the company is performing. One problem, though, is that an insider may sell for100 different reasons -- cash for a new house, children's college tuition, bills, a trip, who knows. But many assume an insider only buys for one reason, because he or she believes the stock is undervalued and will go higher in the future. Today's rally in RadioShack is likely due to investors believing the company's CFO sees something he likes, but they should remember it's not always the smart to blindly follow someone else's lead.  

Another struggling retailer is having a slightly more difficult day. Shares of J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) were down 2.8% after trading higher by more than 3% earlier today. The volatility comes after the company relaunched its home goods section this morning. Penney management is bringing back affordable brands and items which the previous team cut. The company wants to again compete with the likes of Target, Kohl's, and even Wal-Mart for customers dollars being spent on basic sheets, towels, kitchenware, and other durable household staples. J.C. Penney at one time generated about 20% of its revenue from its home goods; management would hope to get back to a comparable figure in a relatively short time frame.  

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