Initial Jobless Claims Barely Drop Last Week, Trade Deficit Widens in September

Andrew Klips |

The number or Americans filing for first-time jobless benefits in the week ended November 9 were more than expected with the prior week’s figure also revised upward, indicating a very slow improvement of labor market in the U.S.

The Labor Department reported Thursday morning that initial jobless claims declined to 339,000 from the week prior’s figure of 341,000.  Claims would have actually increased had the prior week’s figure not been revised upward 5,000 from an original 336,000 estimate.  Economists were predicting last week’s claims to total 330,000.

The weekly report is settling back to being a more accurate reflection of weekly layoffs now that the partial government shutdown is a month behind the nation and California has been delivering regular figures again after a volatile patch when it was processing a backlog of claims after a computer system upgrade.

The four-week moving average, a less-volatile measure of labor trends because it irons out weekly fluctuations, lowered to 344,000 from the prior week’s 349,750 claims.

Continuing claims, or those people already receiving benefits at the state level, was unchanged at 2.874 million for the week ended November 2. Continuing claims are calculated at a one-week lag to initial claims.

Total claims, the number of people receiving benefits from all state and federal programs, declined to 3.908 million from 3.961 million in the week ended October 26.  Total claims are figured at a two-week lag.  Compared to the same time in 2012, total claims were down by 21.8 percent. Comparing claims in the coming weeks will reflect the impact of Superstorm Sandy, which leveled the eastern seaboard of the United States on October 29, 2012.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending November 2 were in Michigan (+2,720), Ohio (+2,289) and New Jersey (+1,371).  The largest decreases were in Oregon (-3,011), California (-2,468) and Tennessee (-989).

In a separate report from Washington today, the Commerce Department said that the U.S. trade deficit widened 8 percent to $41.8 billion in September with imports hitting their highest level in nearly one year. Exports dropped for the third straight month. It was the largest deficit since May and outpaced economists’ predictions of a widening to $39 billion.  The inflation-adjusted balance, which is used in calculating GDP, rose from a $47.4 billion shortfall in August to $50.4 billion.

The soft initial claims report and widening bigger trade gap (which could result in an adjustment to GDP estimates) will likely keep the doves active in the Federal Reserves decision-making process about tapering their practice of buying $85 billion each month in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Speculation about when the central bank will begin applying the brakes to QE3 has analysts guessing anytime from next month to mid-2014.

The markets were all in the red at one point in morning trading, but have swung into the green with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 printing new record highs yet again. With about 2-1/2 hours left in the regular session, the Dow is ahead by 44 points, the S&P 500 up 7 points and the Nasdaq is narrowly in the green by 1 point. 

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