Claims for jobless benefits in U.S. fall more than forecast

Fewer Americans than forecast filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance payments last week, a sign the labor market is getting back on track.

Applications for jobless benefits decreased 26,000 to 359,000 in the week ended Sept. 22, the lowest since July, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 375,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.

A turnaround in claims, which have been on the rise since July, indicates companies in the U.S. may be growing more confident that sales will pick up. At the same time, the jobless rate may be slow to fall after exceeding 8 percent for 43 months without a pick-up in the pace of hiring.

“The labor market is not getting any worse,” said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC. “But jobless claims only tell you one side of the equation, so they don’t automatically mean that hiring is going up.”

A separate report from the Commerce Department today showed demand for capital goods rose in August while failing to make up for declines in the previous two months, signaling slowdowns in business investment and exports threaten to further restrain the U.S. economic recovery.

Orders for non-defense capital equipment excluding airplanes rose 1.1 percent after decreases of 5.2 percent in July and 2.7 percent in June. Total orders for durable goods, those meant to last at least three years, plunged 13 percent, the most since January 2009, paced by a plunge decline in demand for civilian aircraft.

Stock Futures

Stock-index futures trimmed earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in December rose 0.5 percent to 1,433.6 at 9:08 a.m. in New York.

The U.S. economy probably created more jobs than currently estimated in the year ended March 2012, the Labor Department also said today in preliminary projections.

The number of jobs added to payrolls will probably be revised up by 386,000 from the current estimate of 1.94 million, the department said on its website.

Estimates for jobless claims in the Bloomberg survey of 48 economists ranged from 365,000 to 385,000. The Labor Department initially reported the prior week’s applications at 382,000.

A Labor Department official today said claims related to Tropical Storm Isaac were not enough to have a material influence on the data.

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