U.S. weekly jobless claims unexpectedly rise

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but the labor market is steadily recovering as additional fiscal stimulus and falling COVID-19 cases allow more services businesses to reopen.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits totaled a seasonally adjusted 861,000 for the week ended Feb. 13, compared to 848,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 765,000 applications in the latest week.

Part of the increase in claims could be related to the temporary closure of automobile plants beginning last week due to a global semiconductor chip shortage. General Motors announced it would take down production entirely at its Fairfax plant in Kansas City during the week of Feb. 8.

Ford Motor has reduced shifts at its Dearborn truck plant and Kansas City assembly plant.

Claims have dropped from a record 6.867 million last March when the pandemic hit the United States. Though they are stuck above their 665,000 peak during the 2007-09 Great Recession, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic that the labor market recovery will gain traction in the spring.

Coronavirus infections and hospitalization rates have been declining since mid-January. Government data on Wednesday showed retail sales increasing by the most in seven months in January.

In addition, the U.S. Congress is considering President Joe Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion recovery package. That would be on top of nearly $900 billion in additional fiscal stimulus provided by the government at the end of December.

Minutes of the Federal Reserve’s Jan 26-27 policy meeting published on Wednesday showed most Fed officials “anticipated continued progress in vaccinations would lead to a sizable boost in economic activity.”

Last week’s claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed businesses for the nonfarm portion of February’s employment report. Claims, however, have not provided a good signal on job growth because of the economic shock caused by the pandemic.

The economy created 49,000 jobs in January after shedding 227,000 in December, the first drop in payrolls in eight months.

About 12.3 million of the 22.2 million jobs lost during the pandemic have been recovered. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated employment would not return to its pre-pandemic level before 2024.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

COVID-19, renewed benefits boost U.S. weekly jobless claims

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits surged last week, confirming a weakening in labor market conditions as a worsening COVID-19 pandemic disrupts operations at restaurants and other businesses.

The larger-than-expected increase in weekly unemployment claims reported by the Labor Department on Thursday was seen by some economists as driven by the recent renewal of supplemental jobless benefits, but nonetheless raised the risk of further job losses in January after nonfarm payrolls slumped in December for the first time in eight months.

“The economy clearly needs additional support from Washington because right now rising jobless claims tells us the labor market recovery has stalled and the direction is full-tilt down,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 181,000 to a seasonally adjusted 965,000 for the week ended Jan. 9, the highest since late August. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 795,000 applications in the latest week.

Unadjusted claims shot up 231,335 to 1.151 million last week. Economists prefer the unadjusted number because of earlier difficulties adjusting the claims data for seasonal fluctuations due to the economic shock caused by the pandemic. Including a government-funded program for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the regular state unemployment programs 1.4 million people filed claims last week.

U.S. stocks opened higher as investors awaited details of Biden’s rescue plan. The dollar rose against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were lower.

STRICTER MEASURES

The surge in claims last week also likely reflected reapplications for benefits following the government’s renewal of a $300 unemployment supplement until March 14 as part of the latest stimulus package. Government-funded programs for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the state unemployment programs as well as those who have exhausted their benefits were also extended.

“Not all individuals eligible for unemployment assistance actually claim benefits, and the supplementary payments add an incentive to file for benefits,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York.

Authorities in many states have banned indoor dining to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The economy shed jobs in December for the first time in eight months.

The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book report of anecdotal information on business activity collected from contacts nationwide in early January showed on Wednesday that “contacts in the leisure and hospitality sectors reported renewed employment cuts due to stricter containment measures.”

The central bank also noted that the resurgence in the coronavirus was causing staff shortages in the manufacturing, construction and transportations sectors. The virus has infected more than 22.5 million people in the United States and killed over 376,188, the most of any country.

Though jobless claims have dropped from a record 6.867 million in March, they remain above their 665,000 peak during the 2007-09 Great Recession. Economists say it could take several years for the labor market to recover from the pandemic.

The claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 199,000 to 5.271 million during the week ending Jan. 2. At least 18.4 million were on unemployment benefits on all programs in late December.

Labor market stress could curb inflation amid signs of rising price pressures. In a separate report on Thursday, the Labor Department said import prices jumped 0.9% in December after rising 0.2% in November. Import prices were boosted by higher prices for energy products and recent dollar weakness.

Economists had forecast import prices, which exclude tariffs, accelerating 0.7% in December. In the 12 months through December, import prices slipped 0.3% after dropping 1.0% in November.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. weekly jobless claims rise as COVID-19 infections surge

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits increased further last week, suggesting that an explosion in new COVID-19 infections and business restrictions were boosting layoffs and undermining the labor market recovery.

Other data on Wednesday showed business spending on capital remained solid at the start of the fourth quarter, though momentum has cooled from the prior months. The economy is shifting into slower gear as the boost from more than $3 trillion in government coronavirus relief ends.

“There is a two-tier recovery from the pandemic recession where the top of society continues to spend as normal while the bottom-half of the country sits in long lines at food banks with the opportunities for employment few and far between,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 30,000 to a seasonally adjusted 778,000 for the week ended Nov. 21, the Labor Department said on Wednesday. It was the second straight weekly increase in claims. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 730,000 applications in the latest week.

The weekly claims report, the most timely data on the economy’s health, was published a day early because of Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Unadjusted claims jumped 78,372 to 827,710 last week. Economists prefer the unadjusted number because of earlier difficulties adjusting the claims data for seasonal fluctuations due to the economic shock caused by the pandemic.

Including a government-funded program for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the regular state unemployment programs, 1.14 million people filed claims last week. There were at least 20.5 million people collecting unemployment benefits in early November.

The United States has been slammed by a fresh wave of coronavirus infections, with daily cases exceeding 100,000 since early November. More than 12 million people have been infected in the country, according to a Reuters tally of official data.

The respiratory illness has killed more than 257,000 Americans and hospitalizations are soaring, prompting state and local governments to reimpose a host of restrictions on social and economic life in recent weeks, which could keep claims above their 665,000 peak seen during the 2007-09 Great Recession.

U.S. stocks were mixed in early trade. The dollar dipped against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices rose.

RECORD THIRD-QUARTER GROWTH

Unemployment claims dropped from a record 6.867 million in March as about 80% of the people temporarily laid off in March and April were rehired, accounting for most of the rebound in job growth over the last six months.

That improvement, which spilled over to the broader economy through robust consumer spending, was spurred by the fiscal stimulus. In a separate report on Wednesday, the Commerce Department confirmed the economy’s historic pace of expansion in the third quarter.

Gross domestic product grew at an unrevised 33.1% annualized rate, the government said in its second estimate of third-quarter output. The economy contracted at a 31.4% rate in the second quarter, the deepest since the government started keeping records in 1947.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; additional reporting by Dan Burns, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Persistently high U.S. weekly jobless claims point to labor market scarring

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose to a two-month high last week, stoking fears the COVID-19 pandemic was inflicting lasting damage to the labor market.

The weekly unemployment claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday, the most timely data on the economy’s health, also showed at least 25 million were on jobless benefits at the end of September. It reinforced views the economy’s recovery from the recession, which started in February, was slowing and in urgent need of another government rescue package.

The economic hardship wrought by the coronavirus crisis is a major hurdle to President Donald Trump’s chances of getting a second term in the White House when Americans go to the polls on Nov. 3. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s candidate, has blamed the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic for the worst economic turmoil in at least 73 years.

“The increase in initial claims is disturbing,” said Chris Low, chief economist at FHN in New York. “It is difficult to see it and not think the recovery is vulnerable.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 53,000 to a seasonally adjusted 898,000 for the week ended Oct. 10. Data for the prior week was revised to show 5,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 825,000 applications in the latest week. The surprise increase came even as California processed no claims. California, the most populous state in the nation, suspended the processing of new applications for two weeks in late September to combat fraud. It resumed accepting claims last Monday.

Unadjusted claims rose 76,670 to 885,885 last week. Economists prefer the unadjusted number given earlier difficulties adjusting the claims data for seasonal fluctuations because of the economic shock caused by the pandemic. Including a government-funded program for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the regular state unemployment programs, 1.3 million people filed claims last week.

Seven months into the pandemic in the United States, first-time claims remain well above their 665,000 peak during the 2007-09 Great Recession, though below a record 6.867 million in March. With new COVID-19 cases surging across the country and the White House and Congress struggling to agree on another rescue package for businesses and the unemployed, claims are likely to remain elevated.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday he would keep trying to reach a deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, before next month’s election.

Stocks on Wall Street were lower. The dollar gained versus a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices rose.

MILLIONS EXHAUST BENEFITS

About 3.8 million people had permanently lost their jobs in September, with another 2.4 million unemployed for more than six months. Economists fear those numbers could swell.

Though the claims report showed a decline in the number of people on unemployment rolls in early October, economists said that was because many people had exhausted their eligibility for benefits, which are limited to six months in most states.

The number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid declined 1.165 million to 10.018 million in the week ending Oct. 3.

About 2.8 million workers filed for extended unemployment benefits in the week ending Sept. 26, up 818,054 from the prior week. That was the largest weekly gain since the program’s launch last spring. These benefits are set to expire on Dec. 31.

Tens of thousands of airline workers have been furloughed. State and local government budgets have been crushed by the pandemic, leading to layoffs that are expected to escalate without help from the federal government.

“Risks to the labor market outlook are weighted heavily to the downside,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “The increased spread of the virus across much of the country could result in an even larger pullback in business activity than expected.”

Though economic activity rebounded in the third quarter because of fiscal stimulus, the stubbornly high jobless claims suggest momentum ebbed heading into the fourth quarter.

Other reports on Thursday showed mixed fortunes for regional manufacturing in October. A survey from the New York Federal Reserve showed its business conditions index fell seven points to a reading of 10.5 this month. Companies reported continued gains in new orders and shipments, though unfilled orders maintained their decline. Factory employment rose modestly, but the average workweek increased significantly.

Separately, the Philadelphia Fed said its business conditions index jumped to a reading of 32.3 from 15.0 in September. Measures of new orders and shipments at factories in the region that covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware rose. A gauge of factory employment fell, but manufacturers increased hours for workers.

Third-quarter GDP growth estimates are topping a 32% annualized rate. The economy contracted at a 31.4% pace in the second quarter, the deepest decline since the government started keeping records in 1947. Growth estimates for the fourth quarter have been cut to as low as a 2.5% rate from above a 10% pace.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. weekly jobless claims below one million; but labor market recovery ebbing

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell below 1 million last week for the second time since the COVID-19 pandemic started in the United States, but that does not signal a strong recovery in the labor market.

The drop in initial claims to a five-month low reported by the Labor Department on Thursday largely reflected a change in the methodology it used to address seasonal fluctuations in the data, which economists complained had become less reliable because of the economic shock caused by the coronavirus crisis.

There are growing signs the labor market recovery from the depths of the pandemic in mid-March through April is faltering, with financial support from the government virtually depleted.

“There are new seasonal adjustment factors this week which brings down the joblessness slightly,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “The labor market looks just as bad as it was and it will be a miracle if economic growth can continue at such a fast clip during this recovery if it has to drag along millions and millions of workers without paychecks.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 130,000 to a seasonally adjusted 881,000 for the week ended Aug. 29. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 950,000 applications in the latest week. A staggering 29.2 million people were on unemployment benefits in mid-August.

The Labor Department has switched to using additive factors to more accurately track seasonal fluctuations in the series. The government dropped the multiplicative seasonal adjustment factors it had been using because they could cause systematic over-or under-adjustment of the data in the presence of a large shift in the claims series.

Unadjusted claims rose 7,591 to 833,352 last week. The increase in the raw numbers, which many economists prefer to focus on, added to a raft of data suggesting the labor market recovery was ebbing.

A report on Wednesday from the Federal Reserve based on information collected from the U.S. central bank’s contacts on or before Aug. 24 showed an increase in employment. The Fed, however, noted that “some districts also reported slowing job growth and increased hiring volatility, particularly in service industries, with rising instances of furloughed workers being laid off permanently as demand remained soft.”

Private employers hired fewer workers than expected in August. In addition, data from Kronos, a workforce management software company, and Homebase, a payroll scheduling and tracking company, showed employment growth stagnated last month.

Another report on Thursday showed job cuts elevated in August amid layoffs by airlines. United Airlines said on Wednesday it was preparing to furlough 16,370 workers on Oct. 1.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading sharply lower. The dollar was steady against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices rose.

SEVERE DISTRESS

The weak labor market reports raise the risk of a sharper slowdown in job growth in August than is currently anticipated by financial markets. The government is scheduled to publish August’s employment report on Friday.

According to a Reuters survey of economists non-farm payrolls likely rose by 1.4 million jobs last month after increasing by 1.763 million in July. That would leave non-farm payrolls about 11.5 million below their pre-pandemic level.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 1.238 million to 13.254 million in the week ending Aug. 22. Part of the decrease in so-called continuing claims was likely because of people exhausting eligibility for benefits.

The number of people receiving unemployment benefits under all programs jumped 2.2 million to 29.2 million in the week ended Aug. 15.

“While Wall Street hits record highs, much of Main Street remains in severe distress,” said Ron Temple, head of U.S. Equity at Lazard Asset Management in New York. “The pandemic and the federal failure to sustain necessary assistance to households as well as state and local governments are weakening long-term economic growth and social stability.”

Fiscal stimulus boosted economic activity after it nearly ground to a halt following the shuttering of nonessential businesses in mid-March to control the spread of COVID-19. That set up the economy, which plunged into recession in February, for a sharp rebound in the third quarter.

A $600 weekly unemployment supplement expired in July and funding programs for businesses have also lapsed, leaving the outlook for growth uncertain. Also clouding the growth prospects, the trade deficit jumped 18.9% to a 12-year high of $63.6 billion in July, driven by a record surge in imports.

While the rise in imports could be blunted by an increase in inventories, export growth was moderate in July. That could threaten a recent acceleration in manufacturing activity.

A fourth report on Thursday showed growth in the services industry slowed in August. The services sector, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy, has been hardest hit by the pandemic.

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

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)