OIL TUMBLES AGAIN: Here's What You Need To Know

Stocks finished the day higher on Thursday but crude oil made new lows, with WTI crude falling below $US60 for the first time since July 2009. Despite finishing way off session highs, the S&P 500 broke its three-day losing streak as the benchmark index still hasn’t had four-straight losing days this year.

First, the scoreboard:

  • Dow: 17,590, +57, (+0.3%)
  • S&P 500: 2,036, +10, (+0.5%)
  • Nasdaq: 4,710, +36, (+0.6%)

And now, the top stories on Thursday:

1. Oil did it again. In afternoon trade on Thursday, oil plunged to new lows, with WTI crude cracking $US60 a barrel for the first time since July 2009. On Wednesday, oil fell below $US61 a barrel for the first time since 2009, and another dollar came off the price of oil on Thursday. Unlike Wednesday, however, Thursday saw the overall market hold up well, with the Dow gaining more than 100 points after a 268 point plunge on Wednesday.

2. As the price of oil as has plunged, people have talked about the “breakeven” price for oil drilling projects around the world. But a new note from Morgan Stanley says that the “cash cost” of oil projects is really the more important measure. “Cash cost” is what it takes, basically, to keep the lights on at a drilling project, while “breakeven” prices are more reflective of what price companies would find it attractive to continue funding projects and governments would be able to hit their budget targets.

3. The big economic data release on Thursday was the retail sales report for November, which topped expectations. Retail sales grew 0.7% in November, better than the 0.4% that was expected, and up from a revised level of 0.5% last month. In a note to clients following the report, analysts at Capital Economics said, “The strong rise in retail sales in November shows that we were right to dismiss all the reports that holiday sales have been weak. The truth is that the rapid rises in employment mean that this holiday shopping season will be the best in nine years.” 

4. Despite the broad improvement in retail sales, sales at gas stations are declining. November marked the sixth straight month that sales at gas stations declined, the most since 1998. This decline doesn’t come as a total surprise, however, as retail sales measure gross sales, and with the decline in oil prices, gas prices have also followed, cutting total receipts at gas stations. 

5. Also on the economic data front, we got the latest report on weekly initial jobless claims, which showed that claims totaled 294,000 for the week ending December 6, less than the 297,000 that was expected by economists. Following the report, Barclays’ Jesse Hurwitz said, “While initial claims have resumed their downward trend following volatility in recent weeks, we look to next week’s report to better gauge the near-term trend in continuing claims.”

6. Lululemon was a big winner on Thursday, with shares of the yoga apparel maker rising almost 9% after the company reported better than expected third quarter profit and raised its full-year forecast. 

7. The Federal Reserve released its latest Z.1 “flow of funds” report — now called the Financial Accounts of the US report — which showed that household net worth fell by 0.2% during the third quarter. The report showed that the value of directly and indirectly held corporate equities held by US households fell by $US700 billion during the quarter, while household debt rose at an annualized rate of 5.2%. 

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