Fewer Americans than forecast filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance payments last week, a sign the labor market is getting back on track.
Applications for jobless benefits decreased 26,000 to 359,000 in the week ended Sept. 22, the lowest since July, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 375,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.
A turnaround in claims, which have been on the rise since July, indicates companies in the U.S. may be growing more confident that sales will pick up. At the same time, the jobless rate may be slow to fall after exceeding 8 percent for 43 months without a pick-up in the pace of hiring.
“The labor market is not getting any worse,” said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC. “But jobless claims only tell you one side of the equation, so they don’t automatically mean that hiring is going up.”
A separate report from the Commerce Department today showed demand for capital goods rose in August while failing to make up for declines in the previous two months, signaling slowdowns in business investment and exports threaten to further restrain the U.S. economic recovery.
Orders for non-defense capital equipment excluding airplanes rose 1.1 percent after decreases of 5.2 percent in July and 2.7 percent in June. Total orders for durable goods, those meant to last at least three years, plunged 13 percent, the most since January 2009, paced by a plunge decline in demand for civilian aircraft.
Stock-index futures trimmed earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in December rose 0.5 percent to 1,433.6 at 9:08 a.m. in New York.
The U.S. economy probably created more jobs than currently estimated in the year ended March 2012, the Labor Department also said today in preliminary projections.
The number of jobs added to payrolls will probably be revised up by 386,000 from the current estimate of 1.94 million, the department said on its website.
Estimates for jobless claims in the Bloomberg survey of 48 economists ranged from 365,000 to 385,000. The Labor Department initially reported the prior week’s applications at 382,000.
A Labor Department official today said claims related to Tropical Storm Isaac were not enough to have a material influence on the data.
Other data from the Commerce Department showed the economy expanded at a 1.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, less than the 1.7 percent previous estimated, as consumer spending climbed at the slowest pace in a year.
The four-week moving average for jobless claims, a less-volatile measure, dropped to 374,000 from 378,500.
The number of people continuing to collect jobless benefits fell by 4,000 to 3.27 million in the week ended Sept. 15. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of workers receiving extended benefits under federal programs.
Those who’ve used up their traditional benefits and are now collecting emergency and extended payments decreased by about 1,900 to 2.16 million in the week ended Sept. 8.
The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 2.6 percent in the week ended Sept. 15. Thirty-seven states and territories reported an increase in claims, while 16 reported a decrease.
Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and tend to fall as job growth -- measured by the monthly non-farm payrolls report -- accelerates.
Hiring stumbled last month, with payrolls rising by 96,000 workers after a revised 141,000 gain in July, Labor Department figures showed Sept. 7. The jobless rate fell to 8.1 percent in August from 8.3 percent as more Americans left the labor force.
Employment prospects may be lifted, albeit temporarily, as businesses boost headcounts ahead of the year-end holidays. Toys “R” Us Inc., the world’s largest toy retailer, said it will hire 45,000 temporary staff in the Christmas period at both its stores and online distribution centers in the U.S., up from 40,000 last year. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said will hire more than 50,000 temporary workers in its U.S. stores.
Economists project payrolls expanded by 120,000 workers in September, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The Labor Department will release the figures on Oct. 5.
Weak demand is still restraining job growth. Siemens AG said will cut 615 jobs at U.S. factories producing windmills in response to “a significant drop in new orders,” according to a message to employees obtained by Bloomberg. Alpha Natural Resources Inc., the second-largest U.S. coal producer, said last week it will close eight mines, eliminating 1,200 jobs.
The pace of labor market progress persuaded the Federal Reserve to announce further monetary accommodation this month. The central bank said it will expand its holdings of long-term securities by purchasing $40 billion of mortgage debt a month until the labor market improves significantly.