Less Americans than expected filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week, according to a weekly report from the Labor Department, adding to data showing the strengthening of the U.S. labor market.
For the week ended June 22, the agency said that the number of initial jobless claims decreased by 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 346,000. The prior week's figure was initially estimated at 354,000. Economists were expecting a decline in claims to 348,000. The number of claims has now been below 350,000 in 8 of the past 12 weeks.
By comparison, in the same week of 2012, the number of jobless claims was 381,000.
No states were estimated and there was nothing unusual in the data, according to the Labor Department.
The four-week moving average, regarded as a better barometer of jobless trends because it eliminates weekly volatility, was lower by 2,750 to 345,750 from a revised average the week before of 348,500. Economists regard figures below 350,000 as the nation undergoing moderate growth in the jobs market.
Continuing claims, or those people already collecting jobless benefits, improved slightly to 2.965 million from 2.966 million the week earlier. Continuing claims are reported at a two-week lag, meaning these figures are for the week ended June 15. The one-month average of continuing claims slipped down by 9,250 to 2.973 million.
The total number of people claiming benefits through all state and federal programs, which is reported at a three-week lag, was 4.557 million, up from 4.534 million the week earlier.
The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending June 15 were in California (+15,341), Pennsylvania (+4,882) and Florida. The largest decreases were in Illinois (-3,401), New York (-2,090) and Georgia (-1,893).
We could be in the midst of seeing a return to normalcy in interpreting economic data. In 2013, the markets have often climbed on poor economic data because it would strengthen the idea that the Federal Reserve would continue its monetary easing efforts of low interest rates and massive Treasury and mortgage-backed security purchases each month. However, the reality seems to be setting in that QE3 will not last forever and the Fed could take their foot off the gas pedal as early as this year.
Now, maybe good news and bad news will once again influence that market as such, not as a reaction to how the Federal Reserve may shift economic policy. It's still early in the transition, but with a report from the Commerce Department showing that consumer spending accelerated again in May and this report from the Labor Department, the markets are rallying again on Thursday.
A little over one hour into the trading session, the Dow is up by 148 points, the &P 500 has advanced 15 points and the tech-rich Nasdaq is 31 points higher, putting all three benchmark indexes on pace for strong weekly gains after falling on Monday.
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