The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of Americans filing for first-time jobless benefits during the week ended March 9 dropped more than expected, hitting the second lowest level in five years, beating economist predictions for an increase in claims.
For the week, the number of new claims, basically a reading of new layoffs, fell by 10,000 to 332,000, signaling that the jobs market continues to get stronger. Meanwhile the prior week’s figure was upwardly revised by 2,000 to 342,000 claims. Economists were expecting the number of claims to rise to 350,000 for the latest week.
The Labor Department said that all states provided their data on time and that there were no unusual factors in the latest report.
The four-week average of claims, generally regarded as a better gauge of the labor market because it eliminates volatile weekly swings, decreased by 2,750 to 346,750, marking the lowest level in five years.
Continuing claims, or the number of people already receiving jobless benefits, dropped by 89,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.02 million for the week ended March 2. Continuing claims are reported with a two-week lag.
The report showed that the total number of people claiming benefits from all programs was 5.62 million for the week ended February 23, an increase of 217,967 in the week prior. Total claims are reported at a three-week lag.
Jobless claims are now recovering to levels before the Great Recession beginning in 2007 and peaks in March 2009. At its highest levels, claims had swelled in excess of 665,000.
Last week, in its monthly report on the employment situation, the Labor Department said that the U.S. created 236,000 new jobs in February, pulling the unemployment rate down from 7.9 percent to 7.7 percent for the month.
In a separate report today, the Labor Department showed that higher gas prices in February pushed the Producer Price Index – a measure of the prices received by factories, refineries and farms – higher by 0.7 percent, the biggest jump in five months, following a 0.2 percent increase in January. The rise was slightly more than the 0.6 percent increase economists were anticipating. So-called “core” PPI, which excludes the volatile food and energy sectors, rose by 0.2 percent, in line with forecasts, signaling that overall inflationary pressures are under control.
Year-over-year, the PPI was up by 1.7 percent, while the core PPI had advanced 1.7 percent as well.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average has closed ahead for nine consecutive days with Wednesday’s 5.22-point rise to 14,455.28. It is the longest winning streak since November 1996 and includes the Dow posting a new all-time high on Tuesday at 14,478.80. At 1,554.52 for Wednesday’s close, the S&P 500 is still 21.57 points shy of its all-time peak of 1,576.09 in October 2007.
The markets are cheering the solid jobs information in early action with the Dow opening up by 31 points, the S&P ahead by 4 points and the tech-rich Nasdaq advancing 8 points just after the opening bell.
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