U.S. weekly jobless claims underscore labor market strength

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to enter the Nassau County Mega Job Fair at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York October 7, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength even as the economy slows.

The economy, which received a temporary boost from volatile exports and inventory accumulation in the first quarter, is losing momentum as last year’s massive stimulus from the Trump administration’s tax cuts and spending increases fades.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 211,000 for the week ended May 18, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was unrevised. Claims have now declined for three straight weeks.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would rise to 215,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said no states were estimated last week.

U.S. stock index futures held losses and the dollar dipped against a basket of currencies after the release of the data. Prices of U.S. Treasuries were trading higher. Claims are settling down after some volatility in late April caused by difficulties adjusting the data for seasonal fluctuations around moving holidays like Easter, Passover and school spring breaks.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, dropped 4,750 to 220,250 last week.

Continuing strength in labor market conditions, marked by a the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 50 years, is likely to underpin the economy as it shifts into lower gear.

Retail sales and production at factories fell in April, while the housing market has mostly remained soft.

Gross domestic product estimates for the second quarter are below a 2.0 percent annualized rate. The economy grew at a 3.2 percent pace in the first quarter.

Last week’s claims data covered the survey period for the nonfarm payrolls component of May’s employment report.

The four-week average of claims increased 18,750 between the April and May survey periods, suggesting some moderation in employment gains after payrolls surged by 263,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate is at 3.6 percent.

Thursday’s claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 12,000 to 1.68 million for the week ended May 11.

The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims increased 5,500 to 1.67 million.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S. weekly jobless claims unexpectedly fall

FILE PHOTO: A man looks over employment opportunities at a jobs center in San Francisco, California, in this February 4, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting labor market conditions remained solid, despite slowing job growth.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 211,000 for the week ended March 23, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 5,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 225,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said no states were estimated. The government revised the claims data and the so-called seasonal factors from 2014 through 2018. It also updated the seasonal factor for 2019.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,250 to 217,250 last week.

Job growth has slowed after last year’s robust gain. The pace, however, remains more than enough to keep up with growth in the working age population. The unemployment rate is currently at 3.8 percent. The moderation in job growth also reflecting a shortage of workers and softening economic growth as the stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades.

Thursday’s claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 13,000 to 1.76 million for the week ended March 16. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 4,250 to 1.75 million.

The continuing claims data covered the survey week for March’s unemployment rate. The four-week average of continuing claims rose slightly between the February and March survey periods, suggesting little change in the unemployment rate.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. weekly jobless claims drop to near 49-year low

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for jobless benefits tumbled to near a 49-year low last week, which could ease concerns about a slowdown in the labor market and economy.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 206,000 for the week ended Dec. 8, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Last week’s decline in claims was the largest since April 2015. Claims hit 202,000 in mid-September, which was the lowest level since December 1969.

Data for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 225,000 in the latest week. Claims shot up to an eight-month high of 235,000 during the week ended Nov. 24.

The Labor Department said only claims for Virginia were estimated last week.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,750 to 224,750 last week.

While difficulties adjusting the data around holidays likely boosted applications in prior weeks, there were concerns the labor market was losing some momentum given financial market volatility, the fading stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut and the Trump administration’s protectionist trade policy.

Last week’s sharp drop in claims also suggests a slowdown in job growth in November was likely the result of worker shortages. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 155,000 jobs after surging by 237,000 in October.

With the unemployment rate near a 49-year low of 3.7 percent, Federal Reserve officials view the labor market as being at or beyond full employment.

The U.S. central bank is expected to raise interest rates at its Dec. 18-19 policy meeting. The Fed has hiked rates three times this year. Most economists expect the central bank will increase borrowing costs twice next year, although traders expect no more than one rate increase.

Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 25,000 to 1.67 million for the week ended Dec. 1.

The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims slipped 2,500 to 1.67 million.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S. weekly jobless claims unexpectedly fall

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week and the number of Americans on jobless rolls declined to a near 44-1/2-year low, pointing to a rapidly tightening labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 218,000 for the week ended June 9, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims data for the prior week was unrevised.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 224,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said claims for Maine and Hawaii were estimated last week.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, viewed as a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,250 to 224,250 last week.

The labor market is considered to be close to or at full employment, with the jobless rate at an 18-year low of 3.8 percent. The unemployment rate has dropped by three-tenths of a percentage point this year. It is near the Federal Reserve’s forecast of 3.6 percent by the end of this year.

The U.S. central bank on Wednesday raised interest rates for a second time this year and projected two more rate hikes in the second half of 2018. It said the labor market “continued to strengthen” and that job gains have been “strong.”

Layoffs have remained very low amid signs of growing worker shortages across all sectors of the economy. The were a record 6.7 million job openings in April. The number of unemployed people per vacancy slipped to 0.9 from 1.0 in March, indicating that most people looking for a job are likely to find one.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid declined 49,000 to 1.70 million in the week ended June 2, the lowest level since December 1973. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims decreased 3,750 to 1.73 million, also the lowest level since December 1973.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Lower oil prices squeezing U.S. manufacturing sector

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods in December recorded their biggest drop in 16 months as lower oil prices and a strong dollar pressured factories, the latest indication that economic growth braked sharply at the end of 2015.

Despite the slowdown in growth, which was acknowledged by the Federal Reserve on Wednesday, the labor market remains on solid ground. First-time filings for jobless benefits retreated from a six-month high last week, other data showed on Thursday.

Economists have expressed worries that the energy sector slump and drag from a strong dollar are spilling over to other parts of the economy, which would lead to continued weakness in early 2016.

“U.S. companies are cutting investment sharply, and the key worry is that it seems to be spreading beyond the oil sector and in the meantime consumers are missing in action, not able to offset the huge drag from the energy sector,” said Thomas Costerg, a U.S. economist at Standard Chartered Bank in New York.

The Commerce Department said durable goods orders plunged 5.1 percent last month, the biggest drop since August 2014, after slipping 0.5 percent in November. The decline was generally broad-based, with orders for transportation equipment plunging 12.4 percent and bookings for non-defense aircraft plummeting 29.4 percent.

The drop in aircraft orders is surprising as Boeing received orders for 223 aircraft in December, up from 89 planes the prior month, according to information posted on its website.

Economists had forecast durable goods orders falling only 0.6 percent last month. Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, fell 4.3 percent in December, the largest drop in 10 months. These so-called core capital goods orders fell 1.1 percent in November. The decline in orders for both durable and capital goods adds to weak data on retail sales, industrial production, exports and business inventories, suggesting the economy slowed sharply in the fourth quarter.

Apart from the buoyant dollar and spending cuts by energy firms bruised by the slump in oil prices, the economy has been blindsided by anemic demand overseas and business efforts to trim an inventory overhang. The growth outlook has been dimmed by the recent stock market selloff.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, the government is expected to report on Friday that fourth-quarter gross domestic product increased at a 0.8 percent annual rate after notching a 2 percent pace in the third quarter. There is, however, a risk that output contracted in the fourth quarter.

The U.S. dollar extended losses against the euro after the data and was down against a basket of currencies. Stocks were largely flat as were prices for U.S. government debt.

DOUR REPORT

The Fed said on Wednesday “economic growth slowed late last year” and noted that business fixed investment has been increasing at a “moderate” pace in recent months.

The U.S. central bank left its benchmark overnight interest rate unchanged and said it was “closely monitoring global economic and financial developments” to assess their impact on the U.S. labor market and inflation.

Economists said the dour durable goods orders report could heighten the Fed’s concerns about the impact of global headwinds and the fallout from the dollar, which has gained 11 percent against the currencies of the United States’ main trading partners since last January.

“While some of this slowdown is likely to be reversed in coming quarters, it will continue to argue for caution at the Fed about whether the economy can handle a further tightening in monetary policy in the near term,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

The Fed raised rates in December for the first time in nearly a decade.

Weak oil prices have eroded the profits of energy companies, forcing oilfield service firms like Schlumberger and Halliburton to cut capital spending budgets.

Oil prices have dropped more than 60 percent since mid-2014.

Pointing to weak business spending in the fourth quarter, shipments of core capital goods – used to calculate equipment spending in the GDP report – fell for a third straight month in December. Unfilled core capital goods orders declined 1.0 percent, the biggest drop in nearly six years. In a second report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 278,000 during the week ended Jan. 23. The drop almost reversed the prior two weeks’ increases.

It was the 47th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 mark, which is associated with strong labor market conditions. That is the longest stretch since the early 1970s.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)