Jobless claims in U.S. show limited labor market progress

The number of Americans filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell last week, returning to a level that shows the labor market is making limited progress.

Jobless claims decreased by 23,000 to 369,000 in the week ended Oct. 20 from a revised 392,000 the prior period, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. The drop comes after weeks of big swings in the figures caused by difficulties in adjusting the data for seasonal variations.

The data signals employers are seeing enough demand to maintain existing staffing levels even amid growing concern about a slowing global economy and the looming fiscal cliff of tax increases and government spending cuts that will take effect in 2013.

“Claims are signaling more of the same in the labor market,” said Kevin Cummins, an economist at UBS Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, who forecast applications would drop to 370,000. “There is no pickup, nor any further deceleration. Employment growth is moving along at a pretty disappointing pace.”

The median forecast of 48 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a drop in claims to 370,000. Estimates ranged from 350,000 to 382,000. The Labor Department revised the previous week’s figure up from an initially reported 388,000.

The four-week moving average of jobless claims, a less- volatile measure than the weekly figures, rose to 368,000 last week from 366,500. At the end of September, before the start of the quarter, the average was 375,500.

Business Investment

Another report today showed demand for capital equipment such as computers and communications gear stagnated last month, a sign that a slowdown in business investment and exports is hurting the world’s largest economy. Orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft were little changed in September after rising a smaller-than-previously estimated 0.2 percent the prior month, figures from the Commerce Department showed.

Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in December climbed 0.6 percent to 1,413.6 at 9:11 a.m. in New York. Treasury securities fell, sending the yield on the benchmark 10-year note up to 1.84 percent from 1.79 percent late yesterday.

Today’s claims report showed the number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits fell by 2,000 in the week ended Oct. 13, to 3.25 million.

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