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Morning Market Roundup: Retailers Post Aug. Gains, Futures Down, Unemployment Still Lousy

Here’s what’s important in the business world this morning:

Retailers: Americans kept spending in August despite their escalating fears about the slow economic recovery and surging gas prices.

A range of retailers from discounter Target to club-operator Costco on Thursday reported August sales that beat Wall Street estimates. The results seem to show that what Americans say and do are two different things: The strong sales reports come two days after a private research firm said consumer confidence in August fell to its lowest level since November 2011.

A small group of merchants representing roughly 13 percent of the $2.4 trillion U.S. retail industry report monthly revenue at stores open at least a year, a key measure since it excludes results from locations that open and close during the year. Some of the biggest retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot do not report monthly sales, but the figures still are closely watched because they offer a snapshot of consumer spending, which accounts for more than 70 percent of economic activity.

August's results are important because they offer insight into the back-to-school season -- the second most important selling period behind the winter holidays -- which runs from mid-July through mid-September. Retailers and economists often use the results from back-to-school as a litmus test of how shoppers will behave during the biggest shopping period of the year in November and December.

Unemployment: The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits went up last week at a seasonally adjusted 374,000. The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, increased to 370,250.

Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall consistently below 375,000, it generally suggests that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Unemployment applications have risen slightly over the past three weeks. Last week's number was revised upward to 374,000 from the 372,000 that was reported initially. That was its second straight increase.

Still, applications are lower than they were six weeks ago.

Futures: Stock futures sank Thursday due the latest economic data on the job market.

Dow Jones industrial futures fell 43 points to 13,041. The broader S&P futures gave up 5.5 points to 1,401.70 and Nasdaq futures lost 10 points to 2,771.25.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits went up last week at a seasonally adjusted 374,000, according to the Labor Department. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure, increased to 370,250.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

One last thing…
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