The number of Americans filing for first-time jobless benefits rose by a smaller number than expected, according to a weekly report from Washington. Claims are continuing to hold near a four-month low, indicating that the effects of a harsh winter are beginning to fade and the labor market is on the mend.
The Labor Department said that initial jobless claims, a proxy of weekly layoffs, increased by 5,000, or 1.6 percent, to a seasonally adjusted 320,000 in the week ended March 15 from an unrevised 315,000 a week earlier. Economists were targeting claims at 325,000.
There was nothing unusual in the data last week and no states were estimated, a Labor Department spokesman said.
The four-week moving average, regarded as a more reliable measure of labor trends because it flattens weekly volatility, declined by 3,500 to 327,000, marking the lowest level for the one-month average since late November. Economists generally consider average claims under 350,000 as a sign of modest growth in the jobs market. Claims are currently trending where they were before the markets collapsed late in 2008.
Speaking on Wednesday at the conclusion of the latest policy meeting of the Federal Open Markets Committee, new Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen took a hawkish tone about quantitative easing, in part because she sees an improving jobs market. The Federal Reserve announced that it is further reducing its asset purchases this month, following cuts in January and February, and could completely unwind its monthly buying program as early as this fall. Yellen spooked the market by suggesting the rate hikes could come sooner than economists expected.
The main bank had been buying $85 billion every month in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities from September 2012 through December 2013, but that amount has been trimmed by $10 billion each month to now stand at $55 billion in March.
Continuing claims, or the number of people that are already collecting jobless benefits through state programs, increased by 41,000 to 2.889 million in the week ended March 8. Continuing claims are delivered at a one-week lag to initial claims.
Total claims, the count of people receiving benefits across all state and federal programs, dropped by 100,729 to 3.35 million in the week ended March 1. Total claims come at a two-week lag to initial claims. At the same time in 2013, total claims were 5.369 million.
The biggest increases in claims for the week ended March 8 were in Pennsylvania (+1,961), Washington (+982), and Wisconsin (+830). The largest decreases were in New York (-17,548), Michigan (-1,971), and California (-1,262).
Stocks looked to continue their Wednesday sell-off just after Thursday’s opening bell but have sharply reversed course to move well into the green less than an hour into the session. After dipping by 61 points, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is now ahead 70 points, the S&P 500 is up 7 points and the Nasdaq has climbed 15 points.
President Obama is scheduled to speak at 11 AM EST about the situation in Ukraine. Let’s see what kind of impact that has on the markets.