Positive claims number going into Friday's jobs report

Fewer Americans than projected applied last week for unemployment benefits, showing companies are confident economic growth will rebound after winter weather depressed demand.

Jobless claims declined by 26,000 to 323,000 in the week ended March 1, the least since the end of November and fewer than any economist forecast in a Bloomberg survey, a Labor Department report showed today in Washington. Other data showed consumers’ views of the economy reached an almost seven-month high, according to Bloomberg’s weekly index of sentiment.

Falling dismissals set the stage for additional hiring, helping spur household confidence and giving Americans the wherewithal to boost spending. A report tomorrow may show the number of workers that companies added in February lagged behind last year’s average after a weather-induced slowdown in housing starts and retail sales.

“The overall trend here is positive and consistent with a gradually improving job market,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, a U.S. strategist at TD Securities USA LLC in New York. “We have stemmed the bleeding in layoffs. What remains is to add jobs.”

Companies took on 150,000 workers in February, based on the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists before tomorrow’s monthly employment report, after a 142,000 increase a month earlier. Private payroll gains averaged almost 200,000 a month in 2013.

Including government agencies, employment is projected to climb by 149,000 after a 113,000 increase in January.

Consumer Sentiment

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index improved to minus 28.5 in the week ended March 2, the second-strongest reading this year, from minus 28.6. A measure of views of current economic conditions advanced to minus 49, the highest since Aug. 11, while a gauge of the buying climate fell as Americans received higher home-heating bills and paid more at the gas pump.

“Improvement in household sentiment, linked primarily to stabilization in the pace of firings, and modest growth point to a spring time rebound in overall economic activity once the polar vortex loosens its grip on many areas of the country,” said Joseph Brusuelas, a senior economist at Bloomberg LP in New York. “While a slowdown in spending, hiring and housing beyond simple weather effects remains a concern, the economy is likely not to slide back into stall speed this year.”

Stocks rose, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to an all-time high after the jobless claims figures. The S&P 500 climbed 0.4 percent to 1,881.76 at 12:12 p.m. in New York.

ECB Decision

In Europe, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi signaled that deflation risks are easing as the economy improves in the euro region. The ECB today kept its main interest rate at 0.25 percent and raised its forecast for 2014 growth to 1.2 percent from 1.1 percent.

Other data today in the U.S. showed colder temperatures and snowstorms were weighing on the economy. Factory orders in January dropped 0.7 percent, according to the Commerce Department. Shipments of non-military capital goods excluding aircraft, which are used to calculate gross domestic product, decreased 1 percent.

Another report from the Labor Department showed worker productivity rose less than previously calculated in the fourth quarter. Output per hour climbed at 1.8 percent annualized rate from October through December, less than the prior estimate of a 3.2 percent gain.

Labor costs tied to the gain in efficiency dropped at a 0.1 percent pace following a 2.1 percent decrease in the third quarter. For all of 2013, expenses climbed 1.1 percent, the smallest gain since 2010, when they dropped 1.2 percent.

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