Jobless Claims in U.S. Unexpectedly Fall to Two-Month Low

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Jobless Claims in U.S. Unexpectedly Fall to Two-Month Low

A Potbelly Corp. employee hands a customer his sandwich at a Potbelly Sandwich Shop in Washington. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Jobless claims in the week ended Nov. 23 declined 10,000 to 316,000, the fewest in two months, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The median forecast of 44 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 330,000. The data are difficult to adjust for seasonal variations around holidays, a Labor Department spokesman said as the report was released to the press.

Companies have kept workforces lean since the recession and are waiting for more evidence of sustained improvement in demand before they resume hiring. A pickup in consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, is needed to help drive growth and boost employment.

The figures are “indicative of the kind of job growth we’ve been getting over the last couple months,” said Michael Hanson, U.S. senior economist at Bank of America Corp. in New York, which forecast a drop in claims to 315,000. “We’ve been moving forward but we’re not at a robust pace yet.”

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 315,000 to 340,000. The prior week’s claims were revised to 326,000 from an initial reading of 323,000.

Another report today showed orders for durable goods dropped in October, reflecting a broad-based retreat and signaling the government shutdown hurt business confidence.

Durable Goods

Bookings for goods meant to last at least three years decreased 2 percent, matching the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg, after a 4.1 percent gain in September that was larger than initially reported, according to figures from the Commerce Department. Orders for aircraft and capital goods, such as machinery and computers, slumped.

Stock-index futures were little changed after the figures, with the contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring next month rising less than 0.1 percent to 1,803.5 at 8:46 a.m. in New York.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, fell to 331,750 from 339,250.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 91,000 to 2.78 million in the week ended Nov. 16, the fewest since January 2008.

Continuing Claims

Continuing claims don’t include Americans who have exhausted traditional state aid and are receiving emergency and extended benefits under federal programs. Those job seekers rose by about 3,400 to 1.31 million in the week ended Nov. 9.

The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits decreased to 2.1 percent in the week of Nov. 16 from 2.2 percent a week earlier.

Forty-eight states and territories reported an increase in claims, while five reported a decrease. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and typically wane before employment growth can accelerate. Federal Reserve officials are keeping an eye on the labor market as they consider scaling back their $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing. Policy makers have said they might taper “in coming months” if the economy improves as anticipated. Fed officials are scheduled to meet Dec 17-18 in Washington.

Unemployment and slow income growth continue to concern companies as they enter the critical holiday shopping season. In an attempt to jump-start sales, at least a dozen U.S. retailers, including Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret, are opening on Thanksgiving for the first time.

Others, including Coldwater Creek Inc. and Kellogg Co., are cutting employees to lower costs. Kellogg, maker of Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies cereals, will trim 7 percent of its global workforce, about 2,000 jobs, as part of a four-year cost-saving plan, the company announced this month. The Battle Creek, Michigan-based food manufacturer had about 31,000 employees as of Dec. 29.