Jobless claims in U.S. fall to four-year low in new quarter

Fewer Americans than forecast filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, which may reflect difficulty adjusting the data for seasonal swings at the start of a new quarter.

Applications for jobless benefits dropped 30,000 to 339,000 in the week ended Oct. 6, the fewest since February 2008, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 370,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. One state accounted for most of the plunge in claims, a Labor Department spokesman said as the data were issued to the press.

Waning dismissals may help clear the way for bigger hiring gains with any improvement in demand. At the same time, the global economy cooling and a lack of clarity on U.S. fiscal policy are hurdles for faster gains in employment.

The report “is consistent with a labor market that is gradually getting better,” said Guy Berger, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, who had predicted a decline in claims. “Layoffs are at a low level and don’t seem to be going anywhere. Hiring is still very muted.”

Estimates for first-time claims ranged from 355,000 to 377,000 in the Bloomberg survey of 49 economists. The Labor Department revised the number of applications for the prior week up to 369,000 from a previously estimated 367,000.

Stock Futures

Stock futures extended gains after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in December rose 0.5 percent to 1,433.50 at 8:37 a.m. in New York. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed to 1.72 percent from 1.67 percent late yesterday.

Unadjusted claims typically surge at the start of a quarter as people receiving benefits reapply in order for the government to recertify their applications, the Labor Department spokesman said. The year’s increase was smaller than projected, because one large state showed a drop rather than an increase, the spokesman said. The breakdown by state will show up in next week’s report.

The U.S. trade deficit widened in August as exports dropped, a report from the Commerce Department also showed today. The gap grew 4.1 percent to $44.2 billion from $42.5 billion in July.

The four-week moving average for jobless claims, a less- volatile measure, fell to 364,000 from 375,500.

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