Even the ongoing fight in Washington, which some economists had feared would spook employers, did not slow the pace of hiring.
NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Stock futures jumped Thursday as the government reported that weekly applications for unemployment benefits hit a five-year low and the construction of new homes surged. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 39 points to 13,476. The broader S&P futures added 6.7 points to 1,472.30. Nasdaq futures rose 13.5 points to 2,739.50. Stocks were relatively flat before the housing and jobs data were released, weighed down by leaden quarterly performances from the nation's largest banks. Citigroup fell short of Wall Street expectations for the fourth quarter, partly because of mounting legal expenses. Even excluding one-time charges in the quarter, the bank's per-share earnings were 28 cents below the predictions of analysts. Shares slid more than 2 percent before the opening bell. Bank of America was dragged down by mortgage settlements in the fourth quarter, though it had already warned its shareholders of that. But the bank fell well short on revenue expectations and shares dipped. Futures moved higher after the Commerce Department said that builders began work on new homes in December at the fastest pace since the summer of 2008. The report capped off the best year for home construction since the real estate meltdown. Builders broke ground on houses and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000, up 12.1 percent from November. Shares of the country's big home builders rose in premarket trading, led by Hovnanian Enterprises in New Jersey. New home construction for the year rose 8.1 percent, thanks to low mortgage rates and a recovering job market. That trend continued last week. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly unemployment benefit applications fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000. That's comparable to numbers seen just after the recession began. The weekly numbers are subject to a lot of seasonal volatility, but the overall trend suggests an improving landscape.