Also, home prices rose at a healthy pace in December compared with a year ago, and strong earnings reports came from Home Depot and Macy's.
Obama continued attempting end runs around Congress to rally public support in locales and before audiences that would be hardest hit by the looming "sequester" spending cuts. He spoke Tuesday at Newport News Shipbuilding on the impact of the cuts on defense industries and the Virginia economy.
Republicans accuse him of failing to help negotiate ways to soften the blows while insisting on new tax increases. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., calls him a "road show president."
Democrats counter that Republicans are foot dragging. "It is critical that Republicans and Democrats come together to find a balanced way to avert these drastic cuts," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum