Jobless benefits claims fall to lowest since 2008

WASHINGTON , Thu Apr 5, 2012 – The number of Americans lining up for new jobless benefits fell to the lowest level in nearly four years last week, according to a government report that showed ongoing healing in the labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000, the lowest since April 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

“The claims data are consistent with modest job growth in March,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, and economist at BNP Paribas in New York.

Futures for stocks pared losses following the data’s publication while prices on U.S. government debt trimmed gains. The euro extended losses against the dollar.

Thursday’s weekly claims report has no direct relationship to the March employment report due on Friday because the data for the monthly report was gathered earlier in the month.

But the claims data could bolster the case that the healing labor market is lowering the need for the Federal Reserve to do more to boost growth.

Economists polled by Reuters expect the employment report will show the U.S. economy added 203,000 jobs last month, notching up a fourth straight month of solid job.

That would mark the longest stretch of monthly employment gains topping 200,000 since 1999.

The four-week moving average for new claims, a measure of labor market trends, declined 4,250 to 361,750.

Dow Chemical to close 4 plants in cost-saving move

MIDLAND, Mich. Mon Apr 2, 2012 – Dow Chemical Co.  said it is closing four plants and laying off 900 workers, part of a plan to slash costs by $250 million annually amid a weak global economy.

Steep drops in demand for construction products, especially in Europe, have hurt the chemical industry in the past year. Dow makes Styrofoam, a key insulation material used in home and commercial construction.

The company said on Monday it will record $350 million in one-time charges for the plant closures and layoffs. About $110 million of the total will go to laid-off workers.

Dow said it will close Styrofoam plants in Illinois, Hungary and Portugal. It will also idle a Styrofoam plant in the Netherlands.

Hungary and Portugal especially have “very poor market conditions and unfavorable economic outlooks,” Dow spokeswoman Rebecca Bentley said.

Dow, based in Midland, Michigan, will also close a Brazilian plant that produces toluene diisocyanate, a chemical needed to make polyurethane.

In the fourth quarter of 2011 Dow recorded a $264 million tax charge for its Brazilian operations. The charge was related to low profitability throughout the country, Bentley said.

“This plant was a significant contributor to that,” she said. “Now we’re announcing we’re permanently shutting down that plant.”

The company has roughly 52,000 workers around the world.