Initial Jobless Claims Unexpectedly Rise, Retail Sales Decline in January

Andrew Klips  |

The number of Americans filing for first-time jobless benefits last week moved upward, rather than downward as experts predicted, but still stayed in a range that represents moderate growth in U.S. employment.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims rose to 339,000 for the week ended February 8, an increase of 8,000 from an unrevised 331,000 the week earlier.  Economists forecast claims to eke down to 330,000.

The one-month moving average rose by 3,500 to 336,750 from a revised 333,250.  Economists typically regard the four-week moving average as a better measure of labor trends because it irons out weekly volatility.  Generally speaking, economists regard claims under 350,000 as a sign of modest growth in the labor market.

The unexpected rise could add to some concerns about the underlying strength of the U.S. economy.  Earlier this month, the Labor Department said that the country added only 113,000 jobs during the month of January, following only 75,000 new jobs in December.  Wall Street focused on the bright spots in the monthly report, primarily that the unemployment rate dropped to 6.6 percent, even as the participation rate upticked by 0.2 percent.  This latest news could dampen that optimism, though, as February is not getting off to a strong start.

So-called continuing claims, a count of the number of people already collecting benefits in state programs, decreased by 18,000 to 2.953 million in the week ended February 1.  Continuing claims are reported at a one-week lag to initial claims.

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The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending January 25 was 3,524,188,                   an increase of 57,339 from the previous week.    Total claims arrive at a two-week delay to initial claims.  At the same time in 2013, there were a total of 5,918,175 persons claiming benefits.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending February 1 were in Wisconsin (+5,041), New York (+4,830) and Pennsylvania (+2,448).  The largest decreases were in California (-9,631), Georgia (-2,558) and Indiana (-2,444).

Retail Sales Slump Last Month

In a separate report from Washington on Thursday, the Commerce Department said that headline retail sales slid by 0.4 percent in January, confounding economists’ call for no change from December.  Meanwhile, December’s figure was revised to show a 0.1 percent decline from an initially estimated 0.2-percent increase.  Excluding auto sales, retail sales were flat during January.  “Core” retail sales, which don’t include automobiles, gasoline, food services or building materials, declined by 0.3 percent in January, following a revised 0.3-percent climb in December.  Economists pay attention to core retail sales because it corresponds with consumer spending in gross domestic product.

In what has become a growing trend, unseasonably cold, ice and snowstorms were blamed for the drop in retail sales.  Newly-minted Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen’s testimony to the Senate Banking Committee that was scheduled for today has by postponed because of a storm schedule to blast the eastern United States.  The latest storm has knocked out power for hundreds of thousands in the South and has the National Weather Service predicting significant accumulation of more snow in Washington, D.C. as well as the Eastern seaboard.

The markets do not like the downbeat data, judging by premarket activity.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average snapped a four-day winning streak on Wednesday and futures this morning are pointing to the losses continuing in morning action.

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