Photographer: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg

Jobless Claims Rise in U.S. Holiday Week From 3-Month Low

  • Data reflected volatility around the Presidents' Day holiday
  • Four-week average fell to lowest level since mid-December

The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits rose last week from a three-month low, in part reflecting the typical swings during holiday periods.

Jobless claims increased by 10,000 to 272,000 in the week ended Feb. 20, a report from the Labor Department showed on Thursday in Washington. The median forecast of 46 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 270,000. The average over the past four weeks was the lowest so far this year.

Since Feb. 15 was Presidents’ Day, the jump may be more indicative of volatility associated with staff adjustments around a holiday, rather than weakness in the labor market. The struggles of the energy industry may also push up jobless claims in coming months, though growth in consumer spending means business will need to keep adding workers.

“The trend in claims is still very low,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James Financial Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida. “There aren’t many signs of job destruction. The labor market is getting tighter.”

Another report showed orders for capital goods rebounded in January, rising by the most since June 2014, signaling a pause in the manufacturing slump, according to figures from the Commerce Department.

No states estimated data for jobless claims last week and there was nothing unusual in the figures, according to the Labor Department.

Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for weekly claims ranged from 257,000 to 285,000. The previous week’s figure was unrevised at 262,000.

Four-Week Average

The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly claims numbers, decreased to 272,000 last week, the lowest since mid-December, from 273,250.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits fell by 19,000 to 2.25 million in the week ended Feb. 13. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.7 percent. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

Since early March, claims have been below the 300,000 level that economists say is typically consistent with an improving job market.

The national payrolls report, due March 4 from the Labor Department, may show employers took on close to 200,000 workers this month after a 151,000 gain in January, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey. The unemployment rate probably held at 4.9 percent, matching the lowest since 2008.

Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings, and a sustained low level of applications has typically coincided with faster job gains. Many layoffs may also reflect company- or industry-specific causes, such as cost-cutting or business restructuring, rather than underlying labor market trends.

(Updates with economist’s comment in the fourth paragraph.)

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