Wall Street spent the week hoping for record results, then cheering record results and, finally, asking itself how long the good times can last.
By any calculation, this week was a banner occasion for equities. The highlight came on Tuesday, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average powered to an all-time high.
Remarkably, the Dow continued its upward climb the rest of the week, breaking a succession of records, before finally closing the week at 14,397.07, up 2.18 percent.
The other leading indices stopped short of records, but also saw impressive increases. The broad-based S&P 500 closed out the week at 1,551.18, up 2.17 percent, while the tech-rich NASDAQ Composite concluded the week at 3,244.37, up 2.35 percent.
Friday’s non-farm payroll and unemployment report concluded the week on a high point. The jobless rate fell to 7.7 percent, a four-year low. The number of new jobs added came in at 236,000, well above the 165,000 projected.
“The data add to evidence that momentum in the labor market has strengthened further,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics. “Even without any further acceleration, the trend in job growth has been strong enough to keep unemployment coming down.”
Anthony Conroy, a trader a BNY Convergex Group, said virtually all of the latest economic data pointed in the right direction.
“All the signs are positive, but we still need to see growth,” Conroy said. “Everybody’s just been so negative for so long. Everyone is waiting for that big correction and it never comes.”
The better unemployment numbers came on the heels of data in recent weeks showing stronger housing sales and better consumer confidence, as well as improved labor data.
Also supporting the rally was a corporate earnings season in which most companies either met or exceeded expectations.
Finally, analysts cited the effects of aggressive US Federal Reserve policies to keep interest rates low and liquidity high.
“It’s been a good economy, accompanied by good earnings, coupled with very low interest rates. And no sign that it’s over,” said Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investor officer at Hugh Johnson Advisors.
In the coming week, all eyes will focus on the release of retail sales data. Analysts are especially keen to see whether higher payroll taxes and higher gasoline prices drag consumer spending.
The week is also to see reports on inflation. Although inflation has not so far appeared as a major worry, several analysts say it should be watched as a result of the Fed’s heavy liquidity policy.
As the historic week came to a close, attention turned to whether the Fed’s easy-money policies would be maintained in light of the improving data.
Nomura economist Aichi Amemiya said the erratic trend on jobs growth showed that the pace of job creation “was not stable,” suggesting there was “a long way to go” before the Fed shifts gears.
Chris Low of FTN Financial said that the drop in the labor force in Friday’s unemployment report would raise concern for the Federal Reserve, which has promised to continue its asset-purchase program, or quantitative easing, until unemployment substantially improved.