Jobless Claims in U.S. Decline to Lowest Level in Seven Weeks

Filings for unemployment benefits in the U.S. declined to a seven-week low as hiring managers demonstrated confidence in the outlook after temporary adjustments around the holidays.

Jobless claims dropped by 16,000 to 269,000 in the week ended Feb. 6, a Labor Department report showed Thursday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 280,000.

With staffing additions probably slowing this year as the labor market makes it tougher to attract skilled workers, employers are showing little appetite to reduce headcounts. A muted level of dismissals shows sales are holding up for companies even as the global economy and financial markets weaken.

“The labor market is entering a bit of a sweet spot,” said Millan Mulraine, deputy head of U.S. research and strategy at TD Securities LLC in New York. “They’re not going to have a hiring spree, because there’s still uncertainty. Neither are you going to have a firing binge anytime soon because there is still demand out there and businesses need to meet that demand.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of 48 economists ranged from 268,000 to 300,000. Claims in the prior week were unrevised at 285,000.

No states were estimated last week and there was nothing unusual in the data, according to the Labor Department.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, fell to 281,250 from 284,750 in the prior week.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 21,000 to 2.24 million in the week ended Jan. 30. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits fell to 1.6 percent from 1.7 percent. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

Below 300,000

Claims since the beginning of March have held below the 300,000 level that economists say is consistent with strength in the job market.

On the hiring side of the labor equation, payrolls rose 151,000 in January and the unemployment rate dropped to an almost eight-year low of 4.9 percent. Further tightening in the labor market prompted hourly earnings to rise more than estimated after climbing in the year to December by the most since July 2009.

Abrupt financial jolts stemming from a Chinese growth slowdown and adjustments to market regulation have nonetheless shaken some confidence in the outlook for global demand. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said central bankers are monitoring market swings for signs that the volatility is interrupting progress in U.S. employment and broader economic growth.

“Financial conditions in the United States have recently become less supportive of growth,” Yellen said in testimony Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee. “These developments, if they prove persistent, could weigh on the outlook for economic activity and the labor market.”

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