Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits jumped last week from an almost three-month low, reflecting volatility that typically occurs around the year-end holidays.
Jobless claims surged by 68,000 to a two-month high of 368,000 in the period ended Dec. 7, exceeding the highest forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists, Labor Department data showed today in Washington. The 300,000 applications filed in the prior week, which included Thanksgiving, were the fewest since Sept. 7.
The data reflect seasonal adjustment volatility around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released. A report last week showed the unemployment rate fell to a five-year low and companies added more workers than forecast, pointing to further labor-market progress.
“I wouldn’t put too much stock in the ups and downs of initial jobless claims over the next several weeks because seasonal volatility is pretty high this time of year,” said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and the top-ranked forecaster of jobless claims in the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “Layoffs are low. Other jobs data suggest layoffs are not the problem, it’s the lack of hiring.”
The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 320,000 claims. Estimates ranged from 300,000 to 351,000 after a previously reported 298,000 in the prior week.
The 68,000 increase in applications was the biggest since the week ended Nov. 10, 2012.
The monthly average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, increased to 328,750 from 322,750 the week before.
Other data showed retail sales rose more than forecast in November as Americans bought cars and took advantage of discounts going into the holiday-shopping season.
Purchases climbed 0.7 percent, the most since June, after a 0.6 percent advance in October that was larger than previously reported, Commerce Department figures showed. The median forecast of 83 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.6 percent advance. Sales excluding motor vehicle dealers rose 0.4 percent, also more than projected.
Stock-index futures were little changed, following the biggest drop in equities in a month, as investors weighed the economic data to gauge the timing of any cuts to Federal Reserve stimulus. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring this month rose 0.1 percent to 1,783.3 at 8:46 a.m. in New York.
Another report today from the Labor Department showed the cost of goods imported into the U.S. decreased in November, reflecting cheaper petroleum products.
The import-price index fell 0.6 percent for a second month. Prices paid for imported petroleum dropped 3.5 percent, the most since June 2012. Over the past 12 months, the cost of goods from abroad declined 1.5 percent.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits rose by 40,000 to 2.79 million in the week ended Nov. 30.
The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs. Those job-seekers declined by almost 102,000 to 1.25 million in the week ended Nov. 23.
The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 2.1 percent in the week of Nov. 30.
Thirty-nine states and territories reported a decline in claims, while 14 reported an increase. These data are reported with a one-week lag.
Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and typically wane before job growth can accelerate. Fed officials are monitoring progress in the labor market as they debate when to pull back on $85 billion-a-month in bond purchases, known as quantitative easing. Policy makers have said they may taper “in coming months” if the economy improves as expected.
Labor Department data this week showed job openings in the U.S. climbed in October to the highest level since May 2008, while last week’s employment report showed companies followed through on those hiring intentions as payrolls climbed by a more-than-projected 203,000 in November.
The number of total dismissals in October, which excludes retirements and those who left their job voluntarily, slumped to 1.47 million, the fewest in records going back to December 2000.
Even so, the jobs outlook is still murky among some employers. Outerwall Inc., the owner of Redbox DVD rental kiosks and Coinstar coin-cashing machines, eliminated 251 positions, or about 8.5 percent of its workforce, to help reduce costs by about $22 million annually starting next year, according to a Dec. 10 statement from the Bellevue, Washington-based company.
“We believe the organizational changes we are implementing are necessary to better align Outerwall’s cost structure with revenue growth in our core businesses to ensure that we are driving the highest returns for our shareholders,” Chief Executive Officer J. Scott Di Valerio said in the statement.
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