U.S. jobless claims jumped last week after Sandy struck

Throwing Darts

“When you’re trying to forecast a lot of the economic data, frankly, around a natural disaster like that, it’s like throwing at a dartboard,” said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies & Co. Inc. in New York, who projected a rise of 385,000. “We knew they would go up, but it was hard to say how much.”

The consumer price index rose 0.1 percent in October, the smallest gain in three months, Labor Department figures also showed today. The so-called core measure, which excludes more volatile food and energy costs, increased 0.2 percent.

Manufacturing in the New York region contracted for a fourth straight month in November as superstorm Sandy knocked out electrical power and limited activity, a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed.

The bank’s general economic index was minus 5.2 this month after minus 6.2 in October. The median forecast of 55 economists in a Bloomberg survey called for minus 8. Readings of less than zero signal contraction in New York, northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut.

Bolstering Builders

While pushing up claims, the storm may bolster homebuilders and other housing repair companies. Sandy’s damage could spur a sales boost similar to the one provided by Hurricane Irene, which added about $360 million in sales last year, executives at Home Depot Inc. said on a Nov. 13 earnings call.

“The property damage, as we understand it, related to Irene was about $16 billion; the property damage for Sandy is about $20 billion, so it would suggest possibly higher sales, but it’s impossible for us to know right now,” said Carol Tom, the Atlanta-based company’s chief financial officer.

A less-volatile measure of claims, the four-week moving average, rose to 383,750 from 372,000, today’s report showed.

The number of people continuing to collect jobless benefits climbed by 171,000 to 3.33 million in the week ended Nov. 3, the most in more than four years. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of workers receiving extended benefits under federal programs.

Those who’ve used up their traditional benefits and are now collecting emergency and extended payments decreased by about 33,300 to 2.12 million in the week ended Oct. 27.

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