Stuck at home and jobless, Americans confront growing costs of coronavirus

By Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A record 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, the U.S. government said on Thursday, after another four states told residents to stay at home in the latest signs of the human and economic cost of the coronavirus.

Initial jobless claims rocketed as more states imposed stay-at-home orders, forcing large and small businesses to curtail output or shut altogether. More than 80 percent of Americans in 39 states are now under orders to remain at home to contain the spread of the virus.

Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Nevada told residents to stay home on Wednesday, when the death toll soared by 925 to more than 4,800 nationwide. Confirmed U.S. cases climbed to 214,000, nearly double that of Italy, with the second most.

Globally, the number of confirmed infections approached 1 million with nearly 47,000 fatalities, led by Italy with over 13,000 dead.

More gloomy news came on Thursday when the Labor Department reported a whopping 6.6 million people filed for jobless claims in the past week, double the previous record set a week ago.

“It takes your breath away,” said Justin Hoogendoorn, head of fixed income strategy and analytics at Piper Sandler in Chicago. “Obviously the immediate reaction to something like that is going to be fear, especially when (jobless claims) were just about double what economists were even predicting, thinking dire scenarios.”

The new evidence of the pandemic’s impact on the economy follows a growing consensus by health experts that the respiratory illness could kill 100,000 to 240,000 people even if lockdown orders remain in place and Americans abide by them.

To deal with the mounting number of fatalities, the U.S. Defense Department is looking to provide up to 100,000 body bags after the Federal Emergency Management Agency placed an order for that many, a Pentagon official told Reuters on Wednesday.

New York City crematories are extending their hours, burning bodies into the night, with bodies piling up so quickly that city officials are surveying cemeteries elsewhere in the state for temporary interment sites.

Funeral homes and cemetery directors describe a surge in demand unseen in decades as COVID-19 cases, the respiratory ailment caused by the novel coronavirus, surpassed 40,000 infections in the city, killing more than 1,000.

“We’ve been preparing for a worst-case scenario, which is in a lot of ways starting to materialize,” said Mike Lanotte, executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association.

NEW ORLEANS HIT HARDThe coronavirus is even more lethal in New Orleans, which has a per-capita death rate much higher than in New York City. Doctors, public health officials and available data say the Big Easy’s high levels of obesity and related ailments may be part of the problem.

“We’re just sicker,” said Rebekah Gee, head of Louisiana State University’s healthcare services division.

The outbreak will get worse and social distancing is the only way to contain it, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We just have to do it,” Fauci told NBC’s Today show on Thursday. “That is our major weapon against this virus right now. We don’t have a vaccine that’s deployable. This is the only thing we have.”

He called on U.S. states to review the exemptions they have granted to their stay-at-home orders when he was asked whether businesses such as hair salons and florists should remain open.

“I urge the people at the leadership at the state level to really take a closer look at those kinds of decisions,” Fauci said.

An emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the U.S. government has nearly run out of protective gear for doctors and nurses, as governors and healthcare providers across the country clamor for protective gear and medical equipment such as ventilators, which help COVID-19 patients breathe.

New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, has appointed former police commissioner James O’Neill to oversee the city’s medical supply chain.

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called on Trump to follow suit and appoint a national czar with military experience to oversee the production and distribution of medical supplies.

“The system that the administration has in place is horrible,” Schumer told MSNBC, adding he would send a letter to Trump later on Thursday.

Fellow Democratic Senator Dick Durbin echoed Schumer, telling CNBC, “We are begging, pleading, scratching around at every way, shape or form to bring in the protective equipment that we need” for his state of Illinois.

Trump tweeted that New York has received more federal aid than any other state and said the man he describes as “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” and local officials should stop complaining, saying they should have stocked up long ago.

Trump also said on Twitter that 51 large cargo planes with medical supplies were on their way to the states and the federal government was “sending many ventilators today” without giving details.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Barbara Goldberg; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Howard Goller)

 

U.S. weekly jobless claims retreat from one-and-a-half-year high

Job seekers and recruiters gather at TechFair in Los Angeles, California, U.S. March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits dropped from near a 1-1/2-year high last week, but the decline was less than expected, suggesting some moderation in the pace of job growth.

Still, the Labor Department’s report on Thursday continued to point to strong job market conditions, which should underpin the economy amid rising headwinds, including a fading fiscal stimulus boost and a trade war between Washington and Beijing, as well as slowing growth in China and Europe.

The Federal Reserve last week kept interest rates steady but said it would be patient in lifting borrowing costs further this year in a nod to growing uncertainty over the economy’s outlook. The U.S. central bank removed language from its December policy statement that risks to the outlook were “roughly balanced.”

“Labor market conditions remain quite positive, good news for workers, for the consumer sector and the economy more broadly,” said Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits tumbled 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 234,000 for the week ended Feb. 2, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The drop partially unwound the prior week’s jump, which lifted claims to 253,000, the highest reading since September 2017.

Claims that week were boosted by layoffs in the service industry in California, most likely striking teachers in Los Angeles.

A 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government as well as difficulties adjusting the data around moving holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. day, which occurred later this year than in recent years, also probably contributed to the spike in filings.

The longest shutdown in history likely forced workers employed by government contractors to file claims for unemployment benefits.

The shutdown ended on Jan. 25 after President Donald Trump and Congress agreed to temporary government funding, without money for his U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 221,000 in the latest week.

U.S. stocks were trading lower on renewed fears of a global slowdown after the European Union cut its economic growth forecasts and White House adviser Larry Kudlow warned there was still a sizable distance to go on U.S.-China trade talks. The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies, while U.S. Treasury prices rose.

MOMENTUM SLOWING

The Labor Department said no states 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, rose 4,500 to 224,750 last week. Claims by federal government workers, which are filed separately and with a one-week lag fell 8,070 to 6,669 in the week ended Jan. 26.

“Claims remain important to watch in the weeks ahead,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York. “The data are suggesting at least some slowing in employment growth.”

The government reported last Friday that non-farm payrolls increased by 304,000 jobs in January, the largest gain since February 2018. Thursday’s claims report showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 42,000 to 1.74 million for the week ended Jan. 26.

These so-called continuing claims had raced to a nine-month high in the prior week. The four-week moving average of continuing claims rose 4,250 to 1.74 million.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. weekly jobless claims jump to near one-and-a-half year high

FILE PHOTO - A man holds a leaflet at a military veterans' job fair in Carson, California October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits surged to near a 1-1/2-year high last week, but economists dismissed the jump as a fluke and said temporary factors, including a partial government shutdown, were to blame.

A strike by teachers in California, cold weather and difficulties adjusting the data around moving holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day also likely were factors in the spurt in claims reported by the Labor Department on Thursday.

“We are skeptical the rise could reflect a true weakening in the labor market given that there are few other signs of weaker labor markets in January,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economic in New York. “Nonetheless, if we maintain this higher level of jobless claims in the coming weeks, that would indicate a pickup in layoff activity.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits jumped 53,000 to a seasonally adjusted 253,000 for the week ended Jan. 26, the highest level since September 2017, the Labor Department said. The rise was also the largest since September 2017.

Claims dropped to 200,000 in the prior week, which was the lowest level since October 1969. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to only 215,000 in the latest week.

The claims data covered the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which occurred later this year than in the past. Economists believe non-federal government workers who were temporarily unemployed during the longest government shutdown in the country’s history likely helped to boost claims last week.

The surge in claims came amid a recent deterioration in business and consumer confidence, which was partly blamed on a five-week government shutdown that has since ended.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday kept interest rates steady but said it would be patient in lifting borrowing costs further this year in a nod to growing uncertainty over the economy’s outlook. The U.S. central bank removed language from its December policy statement that risks to the outlook were “roughly balanced.”

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 5,000 to 220,250 last week.

The claims data has no bearing on January’s employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period. According to a Reuters survey of economists, non-farm payrolls likely increased by 165,000 jobs in January after jumping by 312,000 in December.

The 35-day government shutdown is not expected to have an impact on January’s job growth, as workers who were furloughed will be paid retroactively together with colleagues who worked without pay. However, those workers who stayed at home during the shutdown are expected to temporarily push up the unemployment rate in January.

The dollar fell against most major currencies, dropping to a two-week low versus the yen, pressured by the Fed’s cautious economic outlook. U.S. Treasury yields fell, while stocks on Wall Street were trading mostly higher.

STEADY WAGE GAINS

Underscoring the labor market’s strength, another report on Thursday from the Labor Department showed its Employment Cost Index, the broadest measure of labor costs, increased 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter after rising 0.8 percent in the July-September period.

The fourth quarter rise lifted the year-on-year rate of increase in labor costs to 2.9 percent, the biggest gain since June 2008, from 2.8 percent in the 12 months through September.

Wages and salaries, which account for 70 percent of employment costs, rose 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter after advancing 0.9 percent in the prior period. They were up 3.1 percent in the 12 months through December.

That was the biggest increase since June 2008 and followed a 2.9 percent gain in the year through September.

“It supports our view that the tightness in the labor market is generating upward pressure on compensation,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.

While the labor market is on solid footing, manufacturing appears to be slowing. A third report on Thursday showed the MNI Chicago business barometer dropped 7.1 points to a reading of 56.7 in January as new orders tumbled to a two-year low. The survey’s measure of production dropped to a 10-month low.

There was some good news on the housing market. The Commerce Department reported new home sales vaulted 16.9 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 657,000 units. The surge erased October’s 8.3 percent plunge in single-family home sales.

The November home sales report was delayed by the government shutdown, which affected the Commerce Department.

The housing market struggled in 2018, weighed down by acute shortages of homes for sales, which boosted prices, as well as higher mortgage rates. But there are glimmers of hope as house price inflation has slowed significantly and mortgage rates have eased after shooting up last year.

Supply, however, still remains tight.

“We expect a further rise in new home sales during 2019 as homebuyers look to new builds, with inventory conditions for existing homes still extremely tight,” said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio.

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

U.S. labor market strong; mid-Atlantic factory activity improves

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/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for jobless benefits unexpectedly fell last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength that should continue to underpin the economy.

Other data on Thursday showed factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region rebounded in January from near a 2-1/2-year low, driven by a surge in new orders, which could allay concerns that manufacturing production was slowing sharply.

While the data so far suggest the economy is in relatively good shape, there are concerns an ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government could erode both business and consumer confidence, leading to cuts in spending.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 213,000 for the week ended Jan. 12, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would rise to 220,000 last week.

The dollar gained against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury yields largely rose while stocks on Wall Street were mixed.

The claims data covered the survey period for the nonfarm payrolls portion of January’s employment report.

Claims fell 4,000 between the December and January survey periods. While that would suggest little change in labor market conditions after the economy created 312,000 jobs in December, the longest government shutdown in U.S. history raises the risk of a drop in payrolls.

Some 800,000 government workers missed their first paycheck last Friday because of the partial shutdown, which started on Dec. 22 as President Donald Trump demanded that Congress give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the country’s border with Mexico.

The pay period for most federal employees that includes the week of Jan. 12 runs from Jan. 6 to Jan. 19. About 380,000 workers have been furloughed, while the rest are working without pay. Furloughed workers will probably be counted as unemployed.

“The federal government shutdown could make the payroll jobs number a walking disaster,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “Payroll employment is likely to dive in January with perhaps 300 or 400 thousand jobs lost.”

Private contractors working for many government agencies are also without pay. But Trump has signed legislation for all employees to be paid their salaries retroactively when the shutdown ends. Some economists say that could result in the shutdown having a small impact on January payrolls.

MODEST-MODERATE GROWTH

The Trump administration has been recalling some employees to work without pay in an effort to minimize the fallout from the shutdown. Publication of economic data compiled by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Bureau has been suspended during the shutdown.

That includes December’s housing starts and building permits report, which was scheduled for release on Thursday. November’s construction, factory orders and trade figures have also been delayed, as well as December retail sales and November business inventories data.

The incomplete data is making it hard to get a clear read on the economy, which could complicate policy decisions.

The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday in its Beige Book report, which offers a snapshot of the economy, that eight of the U.S. central bank’s 12 districts reported “modest to moderate growth” in late December and early January.

The Fed noted that while outlooks generally remained positive, “many districts reported that contacts had become less optimistic.”

That was corroborated by a separate report on Thursday from the Philadelphia Fed showing its business conditions index increased to a reading of 17.0 in January from 9.1 in December, which was its lowest level since August 2016.

The survey’s six-month business conditions index increased to a reading of 31.2 this month from 29.9 in December. But its six-month capital expenditures index slipped to a reading of 31.6 in January from 34.5 in the prior month.

Despite the modest rebound in manufacturing in the region that covers eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware, the level of activity is lower than it was for most of 2017 and 2018.

This fits in with other signs that national factory activity is slowing, having hit a two-year low in December. A report from the New York Fed earlier this week showed a second straight monthly drop in its Empire State manufacturing index in January.

“Conditions have certainly downshifted from earlier in 2018 and compared with 2017,” said Adam Ozimek, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “This reflects simmering risks that threaten to derail the otherwise strong economy.”

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Americans jobless claims rise from 45-year low; labor market tightening

Job seekers listen to a presentation at the Colorado Hospital Association job fair in Denver, Colorado, U.S., October 4, 2017.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rebounded from a 45-year low last week, though by less than expected, pointing to tightening labor market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 233,000 for the week ended Jan. 20, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims fell to 216,000 in the prior week, the lowest level since January 1973.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 240,000 in the latest week. Claims have been volatile recently because of the difficulty adjusting the data for seasonal fluctuations at the end of 2017 and the start of the new year. Unseasonably cold temperatures also had an impact on the data.

The Labor Department said claims for Maine were estimated. It also said claims-taking procedures in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands had still not returned to normal months after the territories were pummeled by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Last week marked the 151st straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.

“The song remains the same for tightness of the labor market – employers are extremely reluctant to fire current workers, which reflects not only the current positive business environment but also the difficulty in finding qualified replacements,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York.

The U.S. dollar was largely unchanged against a basket of currencies after the data. Prices of U.S. Treasuries were trading mostly weaker, while U.S. stock index futures were higher.

NEAR FULL EMPLOYMENT

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. 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 3,500 to 240,000.

The claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 28,000 to 1.94 million in the week ended Jan. 13. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 3,500 to 1.92 million.

The continuing claims data covered the week of the household survey from which January’s unemployment rate will be calculated. The four-week average of continuing claims slipped 1,750 between the December and January survey periods.

That suggests little change in the unemployment rate this month. The jobless rate dropped seven-tenths of a percentage point in 2017, and economists expect it to hit 3.5 percent by the end of this year, which could spur faster wage growth as companies compete for workers.

Strong wage inflation would in turn likely prompt the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates a bit more aggressively than currently anticipated. The U.S. central bank has forecast three rate hikes this year. It increased borrowing costs three times in 2017.

“The Fed may have to pick up its game this year and raise rates four times, not just the three they have already forecast,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

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

U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly rise; import prices up modestly

U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly rise; import prices up modestly

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week in part as a backlog of applications from Puerto Rico continued to be processed, but the underlying trend pointed to tightening labor market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 249,000 for the week ended Nov. 11, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the second straight weekly increase.

The claims backlog in Puerto Rico is being cleared as some of the infrastructure damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria is restored. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 235,000 in the latest week.

A labor department official said while the backlog in Puerto Rico was being processed, claims-taking procedures continued to be severely disrupted in the Virgin Islands.

Last week marked the 141st straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 6,500 to 237,750 last week.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

The low level of claims suggests strong job growth despite hurricane-related disruptions in September. Employment gains could, however, slow as companies struggle to find qualified workers, which economists expect will boost sluggish wage growth.

The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 44,000 to 1.86 million in the week ended Nov. 4, the lowest level since December 1973. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims fell 9,000 to 1.89 million, the lowest reading since January 1974.

In another report on Thursday, the Labor Department said import prices gained 0.2 percent last month as an increase in the cost of imported petroleum and capital goods was offset by a decline in food prices. That followed a 0.8 percent jump in September.

In the 12 months through October, import prices increased 2.5 percent, slowing after a 2.7 percent rise in September.

Last month, prices for imported petroleum increased 1.7 percent after surging 6.3 percent in September. Import prices excluding petroleum edged up 0.1 percent after shooting up 0.4 percent the prior month. Import prices excluding petroleum rose 1.4 percent in the 12 months through October.

A weak dollar, which has this year lost 5.4 percent of its value against the currencies of the United States’ main trading partners, could keep import prices outside petroleum supported.

Imported capital goods prices rose 0.2 percent last month, while the cost of imported food fell 0.2 percent.

The report also showed export prices were unchanged in October as the biggest monthly increase in the price of agricultural exports in nearly 1-1/2 years was eclipsed by a drop in nonagricultural prices. Export prices rose 0.7 percent in September. They increased 2.7 percent year-on-year last month after rising 2.8 percent in September.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Jobless claims rise more than expected as hurricane backlog clears

Jobless claims rise more than expected as hurricane backlog clears

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, suggesting that claims processing disrupted by recent hurricanes has begun to improve.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 239,000 for the week ended Nov. 4, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims had fallen to 229,000 in the prior week, near a 44-1/2-year low, and remain well below the 300,000 level generally regarded as signaling a healthy labor market.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 231,000 in the latest week. They have declined from an almost three-year high of 298,000 hit at the start of September in the aftermath of hurricanes that ravaged parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The Labor Department noted that it is now processing backlogged claims in Puerto Rico though its operations in the Virgin Islands remain severely disrupted.

Last week marked the 139th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

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 1,250, to 231,250 last week, the lowest level since March 31, 1973. That suggests ongoing job growth in an economy many regard as near full employment.

The so-called continuing claims rose 17,000 to 1.90 million. Economists polled by Reuters had expected continuing claims of 1.89 million.

The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 750, to 1.90 million, the lowest level since Jan. 12, 1974, suggesting a continued decline in labor market slack.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. jobless claims hit more than 44-year low

U.S. jobless claims hit more than 44-year low

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped to its lowest level in more than 44 years last week, pointing to a rebound in job growth after a hurricane-related decline in employment in September.

The labor market outlook was also bolstered by another report on Thursday showing a measure of factory employment in the mid-Atlantic region rising to a record high in October. The signs of labor market strength could cement expectations that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in December.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 for the week ended Oct. 14, the lowest level since March 1973, the Labor Department said.

But the decrease in claims, which was the largest since April, was probably exaggerated by the Columbus Day holiday on Monday.

Claims are declining as the effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma wash out of the data. The hurricanes, which lashed Texas and Florida, boosted claims to 298,000 in early September.

A Labor Department official said claims for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico continued to be impacted by Irma and Hurricane Maria, which destroyed infrastructure. As a result the Labor Department continued to estimate claims for the islands.

Nonfarm payrolls dropped by 33,000 jobs in September as Hurricanes Irma and Harvey left more than 100,000 restaurant workers temporarily unemployed. The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are not included in nonfarm payrolls.

Economists had forecast claims falling to 240,000 in the latest week. The dollar pared losses against a basket of currencies after the data, while prices for U.S. Treasuries were unchanged.

LABOR MARKET TIGHTENING

Last week marked the 137th consecutive week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market.

That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller. The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a more than 16-1/2-year low of 4.2 percent.

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 9,500 to 248,250 last week.

The claims data covered the survey week for October nonfarm payrolls. The four-week average of claims fell 20,500 between the September and October survey periods, supporting views of a rebound in job growth this month.

In a separate report on Thursday, the Philadelphia Fed said its measure of factory employment in the mid-Atlantic region soared 24 points to a record high reading of 30.6 in October.

The average workweek index also increased 8 points to a reading of 19.4. It said no firms reported decreases in employment this month. The robust labor market readings helped to lift the Philadelphia Fed’s current manufacturing activity index four points to a five-month high of 27.9 in October, offsetting declines in new orders and shipments measures.

The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid decreased 16,000 to 1.89 million in the week ended Oct. 7, the lowest level since December 1973.

The so-called continuing claims have now been below the 2 million mark for 27 straight weeks, pointing to diminishing labor market slack. The four-week moving average of

continuing claims dropped 22,750 to 1.91 million, the lowest level since January 1974. That was the 25th consecutive week that this measure remained below the 2 million market.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. second-quarter economic growth revised higher; jobless claims rise

FILE PHOTO: Customers shop at a Whole Foods store in New York City, U.S., August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy grew a bit faster than previously estimated in the second quarter, recording its quickest pace in more than two years, but the momentum probably slowed in the third quarter as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma temporarily curbed activity.

Gross domestic product increased at a 3.1 percent annual rate in the April-June period, the Commerce Department said in its third estimate on Thursday. The upward revision from the 3.0 percent rate of growth reported last month reflected a slightly faster pace of inventory investment.

Growth last quarter was the quickest since the first quarter of 2015 and followed a 1.2 percent pace in the January-March period. Economists had expected that the second-quarter GDP growth rate would be unrevised at 3.0 percent.

Harvey, which struck Texas, has been blamed for much of the decline in retail sales, industrial production, homebuilding and home sales in August. Further weakness is anticipated in September after Irma slammed into Florida early this month.

Rebuilding is, however, expected to boost GDP growth in the fourth quarter and in early 2018. Estimates for the growth rate in the July-September period are just above 2.2 percent.

However, they could be raised after another report from the Commerce Department on Thursday showed a decline in the goods trade deficit in August as well as large increases in both retail and wholesale inventories.

Harvey and Irma continue to impact the labor market and are expected to cut into job growth this month. In a third report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 272,000 for the week ended Sept. 23.

Still, the labor market remains strong. Claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a robust labor market, for 134 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

Prices for U.S. Treasuries held losses after the data and the dollar <.DXY> fell to a session low against a basket of currencies. U.S. stock index futures were trading lower.

ROBUST CONSUMER SPENDING

With GDP accelerating in the second quarter, the economy grew 2.1 percent in the first half of 2017. Still, economists believe growth this year will not breach President Donald Trump’s ambitious 3.0 percent target.

Trump on Wednesday proposed the biggest U.S. tax overhaul in three decades, including lowering the corporate income tax rate to 20 percent and implementing a new 25 percent tax rate for pass-through businesses such as partnerships to boost the economy.

But the plan gave few details on how the tax cuts would be paid for without increasing the budget deficit and national debt, setting up what is expected to be a bruising battle in the U.S. Congress.

Growth in consumer spending, which makes up more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy, was unrevised at a 3.3 percent rate in the second quarter as an increase in spending on services was offset by a downward revision to durable goods outlays. Consumer spending in the second quarter was the fastest in a year.

Amid robust consumer spending, businesses accumulated a bit more inventory than previously reported to meet the strong demand. Inventory investment added just over one-tenth of a percentage point to GDP growth in the second quarter. It was previously reported to have been neutral.

Growth in business spending on equipment was unchanged at a rate of 8.8 percent, the fastest pace in nearly two years.

Investment on nonresidential structures was revised to show it increasing at a 7.0 percent pace, up from the previously reported 6.2 percent rate.

Both export and import growth were revised slightly lower. Trade contributed two-tenths of a percentage point to GDP growth last quarter. Housing was a slightly bigger drag on growth in the last quarter than previously reported, subtracting 0.3 percentage point from output.

The government also sharply revised down growth in corporate profits for the second quarter. Profits after tax with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments increased at a 0.1 percent rate instead of the previously reported 0.8 percent pace.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Hurricane Harvey boosts U.S. jobless claims to more than two-year high

FILE PHOTO: Leaflets lie on a table at a booth at a military veterans' job fair in Carson, California October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits jumped to its highest level in more than two years last week amid a surge in applications in hurricane-ravaged Texas, but the underlying trend remained consistent with a firming jobs market.

The surge in claims reported by the Labor Department on Thursday offered an early glimpse of Hurricane Harvey’s impact on the economy. The storm, which unleashed unprecedented flooding in Houston, disrupted oil, natural gas and petrochemical production and forced a temporary closure of refineries.

Economists say Harvey could put a dent in third-quarter gross domestic product, but expect lost output to be recouped in the October-December period.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits surged 62,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000 for the week ended Sept. 2, the highest level since April 2015, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The weekly increase was the largest since November 2012. A Labor Department official said last week’s data had been impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

Unadjusted claims for Texas surged 51,637 last week as some people found themselves temporarily unemployed. That accounted for 95.6 percent of the increase in unadjusted claims last week. Claims for Louisiana were also affected by Harvey, though they only increased 258.

In addition, claims for five states and a territory were estimated last week because of the Labor Day holiday on Monday.

JOBS MARKET STILL FIRMING

Economists had forecast claims rising to 241,000 in the latest week. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, increased by 13,500 to 250,250 last week suggesting the labor market continued to strength.

If, however, the flood disruptions in Texas persist, that could hurt job growth in September. The government reported last week that the economy created 156,000 jobs in August, with the private services sector hiring the smallest number of workers in five months.

Economists largely dismissed the slowdown in job growth, blaming it on a seasonal quirk. Over the past several years, the initial August job count has tended to exhibit a weak bias, with revisions subsequently showing strength.

The dollar was trading lower against a basket of currencies. Prices for U.S. Treasuries rose.

In a second report on Thursday, the Labor Department said worker productivity increased at a 1.5 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, instead of the 0.9 percent pace it reported last month. That followed a 0.1 percent rate of increase in the first quarter.

The government last week revised up second-quarter gross domestic product growth to a 3.0 percent rate from a 2.6 percent pace. Despite the upward revision to productivity, the trend remains weak, suggesting it would be difficult to achieve robust economic growth.

President Donald Trump has vowed to boost annual growth to 3 percent through tax cuts, infrastructure spending and regulatory rollbacks. Compared to the second quarter of 2016, productivity increased at a 1.3 percent rate, instead of the previously reported 1.2 percent pace. That was the strongest performance in two years.

With productivity rising, unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, increased at only a 0.2 percent pace in the second quarter. Unit labor costs were previously reported to have risen at a 0.6 percent pace. They surged at a 4.8 percent rate in the January-March period.

Compared to the second quarter of 2016, unit labor costs fell at a 0.2 percent rate as previously reported.

Hours worked rose at a rate of 2.5 percent in the April-June period as previously reported. That was the quickest pace since the fourth quarter of 2015, and followed a 1.6 percent rate of increase in the first quarter.

As a result, output per worker surged at a 4.0 percent rate, the fastest since the third quarter of 2014, after rising at a1.8 percent pace at the start of the year.

Output was previously reported to have increased at a 3.4 percent pace in the second quarter.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)