More Americans than forecast filed jobless claims last week

More Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week as California continued to work through a backlog.

Jobless claims decreased by 12,000 to 350,000 in the week ended Oct. 19 from a revised 362,000 in the prior period, a Labor Department report showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 48 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a decrease to 340,000. Applications in California remained elevated and analysts weren’t able to determine how many non- federal workers filed due to the government shutdown, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released to the press.

Firings may gradually diminish as a backlog of claims processing in California and the end to the closure of government offices push and pull on the figures. A slower-than- expected pace of hiring in September may reflect companies’ hesitance to ramp up payrolls as lawmakers in Washington feuded over the budget and now prepare for the next round of negotiations.

“California and the shutdown are still going to be elevating claims numbers,” Guy Berger, an economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, said before the report. “Layoffs are going to subside once we head to the very end of the year. It’s really a question of whether hiring can pick up.”

Another report showed the trade deficit in the U.S. was little changed in August as imports and exports stalled, indicating a loss of momentum in global economic growth. The gap increased 0.4% to $38.8 billion from a revised $38.6 billion in July that was smaller than previously reported, the Commerce Department reported. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 71 economists called for a $39.4 billion deficit.

Data Delayed

While the claims data continued to be released during the lapse in appropriations, the shutdown delayed the Labor Department’s September employment report and other government data releases.

Federal workers filed about 44,100 claims for jobless benefits two weeks ago, down from about 70,100 the prior period. Those were tallied in a separate category and didn’t influence the headline reading.

The partial government shutdown this month trimmed 0.25 percentage point from fourth-quarter economic growth and cost the U.S. 120,000 jobs in October, Jason Furman, head of the Council of Economic Advisers, said at a White House briefing earlier this week.

Survey Results

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for jobless claims ranged from 320,000 to 365,000 after the prior week’s previously reported 358,000. Applications surged in prior weeks as California worked through a backlog caused by a switch in computer systems.

The four-week average of claims, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, increased to 348,250 last week from 337,500. No states were estimated last week.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and typically wane before job growth can accelerate.

The September payrolls report, released earlier this week after government offices reopened, showed a labor market that had little momentum heading into the shutdown. Employers in the U.S. added fewer workers to payrolls than projected in September, Labor Department figures showed.

The addition of 148,000 workers followed a revised 193,000 gain in August that was larger than initially estimated. Unemployment fell to 7.2%, the lowest level since November 2008.

October employment data are scheduled for release Nov. 8.

Adding Staff

While companies have held back on increasing payrolls in the face of sluggish economic growth, online retailer Amazon.com Inc. is making longer-term plans to add to staff. The Seattle- based company announced this week that it plans to hire more than 1,000 full-time employees for a one-million-square-foot warehouse in Baltimore, and another 1,000 workers for two sites in Florida.

The weaker-than-expected hiring pace in September supported forecasts that the Federal Reserve will hold off on reducing monthly asset purchases until next year. The central bankers will pare the monthly pace of asset buying to $70 billion from $85 billion at their March 18-19 meeting, according to the median of 40 responses in a Bloomberg survey last week.

The Fed policy makers are scheduled to meet Oct. 29-30, when they will evaluate the strength of the recovery with a less complete set of figures than usual due to the suspension of reports and collection of data during the government closure. Postponements include figures on third-quarter gross domestic product, which were originally scheduled for release Oct. 30 and have been moved to Nov. 7.

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