Latest U.S. Jobs Report, Hurricane Sandy at Top of the News

So much news, so little time and space. It’s Friday, and the big news is two-fold: release of the final U.S. jobs report before next week’s presidential election and the ongoing — and increasingly expensive — damage estimates and cleanup from Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast.

Off we go.

Five things to know this morning:

1. Jobs Report: Unemployment Unchanged

The Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with its latest jobs report, today, the final official snapshot of the country’s employment situation before Tuesday’s presidential election.

The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 7.9 percent, and the number of unemployed persons was essentially unchanged at 12.3 million. Long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 or more weeks) was around 5 million.

Employment numbers from August and September were revised upward: from +142,000 to +192,000, and from +114,000 to +148,000, respectively.

In October, total non-farm payroll employment increased by 171,000, with gains in professional and business services, retail trade, leisure and hospitality, construction, and health care.

Manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, financial activities, information, and government, remained flat. Mining lost 9,000 jobs during the month.

2. Damage Estimates for Sandy

Forecasting firm Equecat estimates that total economic damage from Superstorm Sandy may run as high as $50 billion, almost doubling the firm’s earlier prediction.

Two reasons for the inflated forecast: more widespread power outages to homes and businesses than anticipated (according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Sandy knocked out electricity to more customers than any storm in history); and higher transportation costs due to New York’s flooded subways.

If the new number proves accurate, Sandy would be the second costliest U.S. storm after Hurricane Katrina which struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.

3. Average U.S. Mortgage Rates Stay at Record Lows

The housing market is recovering modestly, due in large part to record low mortgage rates which are helping to boost home sales and refinancing.

This week, the average rate on a 30-year mortgage slipped to 3.39 percent. The 15-year rate, often used by refinancers, was 2.70 percent. One and five-year adjustable-rate mortgages were both below 2.75 percent.

One factor helping to keep rates down is the Federal Reserve’s September decision to buy $40 billion worth of mortgage backed securities every month, in order to encourage more spending and borrowing.

4. Officials Warn of Post-Sandy Scams

In the wake of natural catastrophes, charities spring into action. So do individuals who want to help. Unfortunately, large-scale calamities like Hurricane Sandy also bring out fraudsters and scam artists, always looking for ways to make a dishonest dollar from disaster.

The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) is warning against charity fraud, cautioning people to beware of scammers looking to take charitable contributions, or credit card information for purposes of identity theft, over the phone, through the internet, or more often these days, via social media.

NASAA President, Heath Abshure says that those wanting to help with relief efforts “send contributions to only those charities with an established track record.”

5. October Auto Sales Yields Surprises

For some automobile manufacturers, October was a good month. Volkswagen reported its best U.S. sales in four decades and General Motors had its best October in five years. Chrysler’s monthly jump was 10 percent, Honda was up 8.8 percent, and Toyota was up 16. Ford showed a more modest 0.5 percent gain.

Nissan posted a decline of 3.2 percent for October and blamed Hurricane Sandy for sliding sales and closed showrooms due to storm damage or lack of power.

Manufacturers are eyeing the approximately 100,000 vehicles that were damaged or destroyed by the storm and will have to be replaced. They predict that total sales for all of 2012 will be about 14.4 million vehicles.

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it seven years ago, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering college and professional sports, which are the fantasy worlds of finance. His work has been published by the Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, among others. His interest in sports has waned some, but his interest in never reaching for his wallet is as passionate as ever. Bill can be reached at bfay@debt.org.

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