Blue-chip stocks are higher today on the heels of better-than-expected jobless claims. With roughly an hour remaining in the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is up by 32 points, or 0.21%.
The Labor Department released data today showing that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in more than five years. For the week ended May 4, a total of 323,000 people filed jobless claims after adjusting for seasonal variations in the figure. This represented a decrease of 4,000 applications on a sequential basis, and it puts the figure at pre-recession levels. The last time a comparable number of claims was reported was in January of 2008.
This is not to suggest that the employment situation is fixed by any stretch of the imagination. Last week, the Labor Department released its official unemployment rate for the month of April. The figure came in at 7.5%, well above the levels that were seen prior to 2008. Nevertheless, as a JPMorgan Chase economist told The Wall Street Journal, "Today's report validates the signal from last week's payroll report that the jobs market has remained resilient in the second quarter.
In terms of individual stocks, shares of 3M (NYSE:MMM) are leading the Dow higher, up 1.9% at the time of writing. Absent a specific impetus, it appears as if the industrial conglomerate is merely riding higher on the upbeat jobs report. Lately, as my colleague Jessica Alling noted earlier today, 3M has been working on a new line of masking tape "designed and labeled to help purchasers with the task of figuring out what strength of tape they need to get the job done." For the year, 3M's shares are up an impressive 14%, and they yield a not-too-shabby 2.4%.
Alternatively, the worst performing stock on the blue-chip index is AT&T (NYSE:T), down by 1.2% in mid-afternoon trading. The company announced today that it's launching a new prepaid service aimed at customers "interested in a first-class wireless experience at a value price, without an annual contract." While an AT&T spokeswoman told the Journal that the move isn't in response to T-Mobile's recent deal to sell iPhones without a service contract, the timing appears to be far from a coincidence. That its stock is lower today is likely a reflection of the fact that prepaid cellular service is often less profitable than service provided under a monthly contract.