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Unemployment rate falls to 8.3%

BY Ken Clark

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 243,000 in January as the nation’s unemployment rate declined to 8.3%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

The better-than-expected jobs report produced an unemployment rate that is down 0.2 percentage points from December and down 0.8 percentage points since August. It’s also the lowest rate in almost three years. 

Employment in construction increased by 21,000 in January, following a gain of 31,000 in the previous month. Over the past two months, nonresidential specialty trade contractors added 30,000 jobs, according to the bureau.

Employment in retail trade continued to trend up in January. Job gains in department stores (+19,000), health and personal care stores (+7,000), and automobile dealers (+7,000) were partially offset by losses in clothing and clothing accessory stores (-14,000). Since an employment trough in December 2009, retail trade has added 390,000 jobs.

The employment situation summary can be found here

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Amid challenges, Fortune Brands posts sales gains

BY Ken Clark

Deerfield, Ill.-based Fortune Brands Home & Security reported mix results for the fourth quarter.

The company posted net sales of $876 million, up 4% from the prior-year quarter. Net income was a loss of $68.4 million, compared with earnings of $11.2 million in the same quarter last year.

“Our sales growth continued in the fourth quarter, despite a market for our products that remained challenging. Overall, we performed at the high end of our expectations, and we believe we continue to outperform the market for our products,” said Chris Klein, CEO, Fortune Brands Home & Security. “We continued to see solid sales increases, ranging from mid-single digits to low-double digits, in our Security & Storage, Plumbing, and Cabinets segments, thanks to our ongoing innovation and market expansion activities. Our Windows & Door segment was impacted again by lower window sales lapping relatively high year-ago comparisons, due to the energy tax credit that expired at the end of 2010. In total, adjusted pro forma operating income was up slightly, reflecting the continued promotional environment in our Cabinets segment and softness in our Windows & Door segment.”

Security & Storage net sales were up 13%, on increased sales of Master Lock padlocks and safety products, as well as Husky garage organization products.

Plumbing & Accessories net sales were up 8%, with strength in U.S. retail and wholesale channels, as well as Canada and China.

Kitchen & Bath Cabinetry net sales were up 5%, driven by growth in new business.

Advanced Material Windows & Door Systems net sales were down 11%. An increase in door sales, helped in part by growth in Canada and a recently launched exclusive relationship with a major window & door brand in which Therma-Tru will be making all of their entry door panels, was offset by a sharp decline of more than 20% in window sales. The company believes last year’s energy tax credit pulled substantial windows demand forward into 2010.

For the full year, sales increased 3% to $3.3 billion. The company posted a loss of $33.0 million for the year, compared with earnings of $63.8 million in 2010.

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Whirlpool sees “flat to slightly improving” demand in 2012

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool’s CEO Jeff Fettig forecast industry demand in 2012 as "flat to slightly improving." 

The company posted sales of $4.9 billion in the fourth quarter, down slightly from $5.0 billion. But fourth-quarter net earnings increased to $205 million, compared with net earnings of $171 million during the same period last year.

The North America region reported operating profit of $202 million for the quarter compared with $53 million in the previous year.

"As we enter 2012, we are executing strong actions to continue to improve operating margins through our cost and capacity reduction initiatives, ongoing productivity programs and previously announced price increases," Fettig said.  "We exit 2011 with improving product price/mix, significantly lower inventory levels and strong new product innovation. These initiatives are the key drivers to improving our operating margins throughout 2012."

Full-year 2011 sales reached $18.7 billion, up 2% from the prior year.  Net earnings for the year were $390 million, down from $619 million in 2010.

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