Personal Finance

Jobless rates fall or are unchanged in all 50 states

43 states add jobs

Unemployment rates fell or were unchanged in all 50 U.S. states in November, evidence that hiring is improving across the country.

The Labor Department says employers added jobs in 43 states and cut jobs in just seven. California, Texas and Indiana reported the largest job gains.

Nationwide, hiring has been robust for the past four months. Employers added an average of 204,000 jobs from August through November, a strong pickup from early this year.

The national unemployment rate fell to 7 percent last month, a five-year low.

Still, the decline in state unemployment rates has occurred partly because many people have stopped looking for work. When people who are out of work stop looking for jobs, they’re no longer counted as unemployed. The unemployment rate can fall as a result.

Higher-priced shoes propel Nike

Nike Inc., the world’s largest sporting-goods company, posted second-quarter profit that topped analysts’ estimates as higher-priced shoes boosted sales.

Net income in the three months through November rose 40 percent to $537 million, or 59 cents a share, from $384 million, or 42 cents, a year earlier, the Beaverton, Oregon-based company said yesterday in a statement after the market closed. Profit excluding some items was 59 cents a share. The average of 24 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg was 58 cents.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker has been introducing premium products that sell for higher prices, such as $160 Flyknit running shoes and $225 Hypervenom soccer cleats, while bolstering the company’s online business. Nike’s gross margin, the percentage of sales left after subtracting the cost of goods sold, expanded 1.4 percentage points to 43.9 percent.

“I’m a real bull on this Flyknit technology” that allows customization, said Paul Swinand, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. in Chicago. “That is the next wave of innovation and it’s in its infancy right now. They’re the leader, they’ve got the technology.”

Delta interested in Alaska Air?

Alaska Air Group Inc. may lure takeover interest from Delta Air Lines Inc. with its Seattle hub and ability to generate more profit from its assets than most carriers.

The smallest of the six remaining major U.S. airlines after the US Airways Group Inc.-AMR Corp. merger closed Dec. 9, Alaska stands out as a well-run company with an appealing West Coast route network, said shareholder Diamond Hill Capital Management Inc. The $4.9 billion company, which has been profitable since 2009, offers suitors one of the industry’s most fuel-efficient fleets and a return on assets that’s higher than 88 percent of global airlines, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Delta may want to buy Alaska to ferry additional U.S. passengers to Seattle for international flights the carrier is adding there, said Imperial Capital LLC. Even after surging 64 percent this year, Alaska would be a bargain for a buyer, said James Investment Research Inc. Net income is on pace to hit a record in 2013, and the company is more affordable relative to its profit than 82 percent of peers, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Acquirers “like to find those bargain kind of companies that are profitable,” David James, director of research at Alpha, Ohio-based James Investment, said in a phone interview. “I could see one of the bigger ones looking to take them over. It’s got a really good niche market within Alaska and then some other key parts within the continental United States and Canada.”

Walgreen’s earnings surge

Walgreen’s fiscal first-quarter earnings soared 68 percent as investments in other companies paid off for the nation’s largest drugstore chain, but a slowdown in generic drug introductions helped squeeze profitability.

The Deerfield Ill., company said Friday that it booked a total of $376 million in income during the quarter that ended Nov. 30 from its stakes in European health and beauty retailer Alliance Boots and U.S. pharmaceutical wholesaler AmerisourceBergen Corp.

Last year, Walgreen Co. acquired a 45 percent stake in Alliance Boots, which runs the largest drugstore chain in the United Kingdom, and it has an option to buy the rest of the company in 2015. Earlier this year, it also bought an ownership stake in AmerisourceBergen and entered a supply agreement with the company.

Analysts have said they like the potential for growth that these deals give Walgreen, which runs 8,200 drugstores.

Overall, Walgreen earned $695 million, or 72 cents per share, in a fiscal first-quarter performance that matched analyst expectations. That was up from $413 million, or 43 cents per share, a year ago, when the company absorbed Alliance Boots deal charges and took a $24 million hit after Superstorm Sandy forced it to temporarily close hundreds of stores.

Revenue climbed 6 percent to $18.33 billion, while analysts forecast $18.35 billion, according to FactSet.