Jobless claims hint labor market improving gradually

WASHINGTON, Thu Oct 18, 2012 – The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits spiked last week, reversing a sharp decline in the prior week but still pointing to a labor market that is slowly healing.

Other data on Thursday showed a modest rebound in factory activity in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 46,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, the Labor Department said.

Despite the spike, a four-week moving average that smoothes out weekly volatility was down from a month earlier, suggesting the lackluster job market recovery remains on track.

“Improvement in the labor market will continue to be fitful and slow,” said Joseph Trevisani, a market strategist at Worldwide Markets in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.

The economy has recently shown signs of modest strength, with the unemployment rate falling to 7.8 percent in September and retail sales pointing to a pick-up in consumer spending.

A gauge of future economy activity rebounded in September to post its largest gain in seven months, the Conference Board said in a separate report.

Jobless claims fall to lowest in four and a half years

WASHINGTON, Thu Oct 11, 2012 – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to the lowest level in more than four and a half years, according government data on Thursday that suggested improvement in the labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 30,000 to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the Labor Department said. It was the lowest number of new claims since February 2008.

The prior week’s figure was revised up to show 2,000 more applications than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging up to 370,0000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labor market trends, fell 11,500 to 364,000.

A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated for the latest report.

Recent data on the U.S. labor market has been encouraging.

Employers added a modest 114,000 jobs to their payrolls in September, but the unemployment rate dropped sharply to 7.8 percent, the lowest level since President Barack Obama took office.

Obama is in a tight fight with Republican challenger Mitt Romney less than a month before elections on Nov. 6, and the health of the labor market is an important factor for voters.

Jobless claims fall first time since April, labor market still on mend

WASHINGTON, Thu Jun 7, 2012 – The number of Americans lining up for new jobless benefits fell last week for the first time since April, a reminder that the wounded labor market is still slowly healing.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 377,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was spot on the median forecast in a Reuters poll.

The government revised the prior week’s figure up to 389,000 from the previously reported 383,000.

Prior to last week, claims had risen in four consecutive weeks, adding to concerns over several months of lackluster hiring data. While the country emerged from a deep recession three years ago, the jobless rate last month was 8.2 percent, well above its long-term historical average.

Still, most of the recent increases in new jobless claims were marginal and the overall level of claims has held at levels consistent with a modest recovery in the labor market.

The last time claims fell was in the week that ended April 28. The four-week moving average for new claims, a measure of labor market trends, increased 1,750 last week to 377,750.

The claims report comes ahead of congressional testimony scheduled for later in the day by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, where he could give clues about the likelihood of further policy easing.

On Wednesday, Janet Yellen, Bernanke’s deputy and the vice chair of the Fed, laid out the case for the central bank to provide more support to a fragile economy as financial turmoil in Europe mounts.

Jobless claims little changed last week; labor market expanding at a moderate pace

WASHINGTON, Thu May 24, 2012 – New claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week, government data on Thursday showed, suggesting the labor market continues to expand at a moderate pace.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week’s figure was revised up to 372,000 from the previously reported 370,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims unchanged last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, dropped 5,500 to 370,000.

Claims have barely budged in the past four weeks indicating a marginal improvement in the pace of job creation after April’s disappointing 115,000 gain in nonfarm payrolls.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level claims data and no states had been estimated.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 29,000 to 3.26 million in the week ended May 12.

The so-called continuing claims data covered the week for the household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived. The jobless rate dropped to 8.1 percent in April from 8.2 percent the prior month, but mostly as people gave up the hunt for work.

While more states are losing eligibility for extended benefits for the long-term unemployed, that is not yet being fully captured in the claims data as the figures are reported with a time lag.

Economists expect that as more people fall off the unemployment benefit rolls, that will artificially push down the jobless rate. Out-of-work people not receiving benefits are not obliged to be actively looking for work, a key criteria to be counted as unemployed.

The number of people on extended benefits dipped 4,800 to 299,955 in the week ended May 5, the latest week for which data is available. Only 15 states and the District of Columbia were offering extended benefits during that period.

Jobless claims for last week hold steady at 370,000

WASHINGTON, Thu May 17, 2012 – New claims for unemployment benefits were unchanged last week, according to government data on Thursday that will do little to ease concerns about a recent slowdown in jobs growth.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits held steady at a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the Labor Department said.

The prior week’s figure was revised up to 370,000 from the previously reported 367,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 365,000 last week. The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, fell 4,750 to 375,000.

The data comes on the heels of three straight months of slowing employment gains. Companies added 115,000 new jobs to their payrolls in April, the fewest in six months.

Thursday’s report on claims covered the week for May’s payrolls survey. The four-week average of new applications fell marginally between the April and May survey periods, suggesting not much change in labor market conditions.

Still, many economists think the April report gave an overly dim view of the economy, and pin the pull-back in job creation as payback for a mild winter that boosted gains in prior months.

The U.S. Federal Reserve appears disinclined to ramp up its support for the economy anytime soon unless the recovery stumbles. Minutes from the Fed’s April meeting released on Wednesday supported that view.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level claims data and no states had been estimated.

April hiring slows, unemployment rate falls to 8.1 percent

WASHINGTON, Fri May 4, 2012 – Employers decreased hiring for the second straight month in April but the unemployment rate still fell to 8.1 percent, giving mixed messages about the economy’s strength ahead of President Barack Obama’s November re-election bid.

Employers added 115,000 workers to their payrolls last month, the Labor Department said on Friday.

The reading keeps fears alive that the U.S. economy is losing momentum and dampens hopes that a stretch of strong winter hiring signaled a turning point for the recovery.

The unemployment rate ticked a tenth of a point lower to a three-year low, as people left the work force. The jobless rate is derived from a separate survey of households, which showed a drop in the number of jobs in April.

Still, the government revised upward its initial estimates for payroll growth in February and March by a combined 53,000. That left the six-month average of job growth at 197,000, nearly exactly where it would have been had April job growth come in as expected at 170,000.

“We’re still growing just gradually,” said Nigel Gault, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts.

“Hiring is coming back into line with what you would expect with sluggish growth.”

The report, which regularly sets the tone for financial markets around the world, could rattle nerves at the White House. Weak U.S. growth and high unemployment create a formidable headwind for Obama, who entered office during the darkest days of the 2007-09 recession.

His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, repeatedly has accused Obama of doing too little to foster job growth.

The unemployment rate, which soared to as high as 10 percent during Obama’s first year in the office, held near 9 percent for most of last year before falling sharply over the winter.

Still, it remains about 2 percentage points higher than its average over the last 50 years, and the U.S. Federal Reserve thinks it probably will not post a full recovery for at least another several years.

Nevertheless, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month the central bank is providing enough support for the economy.

Bernanke says U.S. needs faster growth to reduce unemployment

WASHINGTON , Tue Mar 27, 2012 – The U.S. economy needs to grow more quickly to bring the unemployment rate down further, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Monday, defending the central bank’s policy of very low interest rates.

While he offered no indication the Fed is keen to embark on a third round of bond purchases, Bernanke also made clear the central bank is in no rush to reverse course after responding aggressively to a deep recession.

The jobless rate has dropped to 8.3 percent from 9.1 percent last summer, a move Bernanke said was “somewhat out of sync” with the rather modest pace of economic growth.

He said the decline could reflect an effort by businesses to recalibrate their payrolls after unusually heavy job cuts during the recession. If this is the case, he said, progress may stall.

“To the extent that this reversal has been complete, further significant improvements in the unemployment rate will likely require a more rapid expansion of production and demand from consumers and businesses, a process that can be supported by continued accommodative policies,” Bernanke told the National Association for Business Economics.

U.S. stocks climbed on hopes that Bernanke’s speech could be a precursor to more Fed bond purchases, with each of the major indexes up at least 1 percent. The dollar fell against the euro, but prices for U.S. government debt also slipped as worries about Europe’s debt crisis eased, sapping a safe-haven bid.

The U.S. central bank lowered overnight interest rates to near zero in December 2008 and has bought $2.3 trillion in debt securities to drive other borrowing costs lower in an effort to spur faster growth and cut unemployment.

“Reading between the lines, it sounds like he’s pushing the ball forward toward having a discussion about doing more,” said Chris Rupkey, economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, on the sidelines of the NABE conference.

After its last two meetings, the Fed said it would likely keep rates near zero at least through late 2014, but upbeat economic signs, including solid employment growth, have led investors to bet on a move as early as the middle of next year.

Bernanke’s speech appeared aimed at pushing back against those expectations.

Jobless claims fall to four-year low, manufacturing holds up

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Fri Mar 16, 2012 — Economic growth showed signs of becoming more self-sustaining as the number of Americans claiming new jobless benefits fell back to a four-year low last week and manufacturing activity in the Northeast picked up this month.

But the impact of higher oil prices also was starting to be seen in data on Thursday. Producer prices racked up their biggest increase in five months in February, while manufacturers in New York state reported a surge in input costs in March.

The recent gains in oil and gasoline prices have raised concerns the higher costs could start to squeeze businesses and consumers and put a dent in the recovery.

Still, producer prices last month did not rise as much as economists had expected, and underlying inflation pressures were contained.

Thursday’s initial claims data for state unemployment benefits was further evidence of an improving labor market after the jobless rate held at a three-year low of 8.3 percent in February.

“This suggests that the recovery is firmly on track,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Federal Reserve earlier this week acknowledged the recent improvement in the labor market, but remained concerned with the still-high unemployment rate. The central bank also reiterated its expectation it will keep interest rates at ultra-low levels through late-2014 as part of its efforts to support the economy.

Jobless claims hover near four-year lows

WASHINGTON – New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits edged down last week, holding near four-year lows, according to a government report on Thursday that suggested the labor market was gaining momentum.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 351,000, the Labor Department said. The prior week’s figure was revised up to 353,000 from the previously reported 351,000.

Claims have been hovering near four-year lows over the last few weeks. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims unchanged at 351,000 last week.

The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends, dropped 5,500 to 354,000 – the lowest level since March 2008.

New applications for jobless benefits have declined through much of February, raising hopes for a third straight month of solid employment gains.

Nonfarm employment likely increased 200,000 last month, according to a Reuters survey, after rising 243,000 in January. The unemployment rate is seen holding at a three-year low of 8.3 percent in February.

The government will release February’s employment report on March 9. While the labor market is gaining momentum, the level of employment is still 5.82 million from its prerecession level.

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke described the labor market as “far from normal” and that further improvement would require stronger growth in final demand and production.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data and that no states had been estimated.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 2,000 to 3.40 million in the week ended Feb. 18.

So-called continued claims covered the survey period for the household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived. Continued claims have declined 165,000 between the January and February survey periods.

New unemployment benefits claims fall 15,000 last week

WASHINGTON ― New claims for unemployment benefits fell by 15,000 last week in the latest sign the labor market was improving and could help the country resist the effects of a likely euro zone recession.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped to a seasonally adjusted 372,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week’s claims data was revised up to 387,000 from the previously reported 381,000.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 375,000. A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the data, although the figures for three states, including California and Virginia, had been estimated.

Claims have now fallen in four of the last five weeks, and the four-week moving average ― a better measure of trends – fell 3,250 to 376,500, the lowest level since June 2008.

Economists at Goldman Sachs said in December that weekly claims below 435,000 pointed to net monthly gains in jobs.

An improving labor market has boosted the view the economy wrapped up 2011 on better footing, leaving it well positioned to deal with headwinds from Europe’s debt crisis and fiscal tightening at home.

Still, a moribund U.S. housing market and persistently high unemployment threaten the recovery.

In the week ending December 24, the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 22,000 to 3.595 million. Economists had forecast so-called continuing claims holding about steady at 3.58 million.

As of Dec 17, a total of 7.223 million people were claiming unemployment benefits under all programs, down 8,311 from the prior week.

Data on Wednesday showed U.S. manufacturing growing at its fastest pace in six months during December, capping a late-year upswing.

Fourth-quarter growth is seen topping a 3 percent annual pace, rising from the July-September period’s 1.8 percent rate.