Frigid temperatures and heavy snow in the Northeast and Midwest have restrained recent economic data. A report from the Commerce Department last month showed retail sales declined in January by the most since June 2012. Housing starts dropped 16 percent in January from the prior month, data on Feb. 19 showed.
A Labor Department spokesman said today that the recent fluctuation in jobless claims coincides with states most affected by winter storms. The median forecast of 51 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 336,000 applications last week. Estimates ranged from 325,000 to 350,000.
The claims data showed the four-week average, a less- volatile measure than the weekly figure, decreased to 336,500 from 338,500.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits decreased by 8,000 to 2.91 million in the week ended Feb. 22, the fewest this year.
General Dynamics Corp., a Falls Church, Virginia-based defense company, is dismissing workers. The company will eliminate 1,195 call center positions in Houston, with most jobs ending by April 25, it said in a February letter to the Texas Workforce Commission.
Other companies are expanding to help them draw customers. ZipRealty Inc., an Emeryville, California-based residential real estate brokerage, is among them.
“We’re increasing our transaction capacity and production pipeline by hiring new agents in the cities we serve,” Lanny Baker, president and chief executive officer, said in a March 3 call. “Our growing agent ranks and lead volume gains in 2013 are expected to contribute the transaction volume this year.”
Federal Reserve policy makers are focusing on the job market to help guide the pace at which they’re reducing stimulus. The Federal Open Market Committee’s next meeting is March 18-19. The central bank will continue cutting monthly bond purchases by $10 billion per meeting, based on a Bloomberg survey of economists.
The Fed’s view on the economy could be complicated by weather distortions.
“What we need to do, and will be doing in the weeks ahead, is to try to get a firmer handle on exactly how much of that set of soft data can be explained by weather and what portion, if any, is due to a softer outlook,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen said while speaking to the Senate Banking Committee Feb. 27.