U.S. jobless claims data point to strengthening labor market

Thu Apr 9, 2015 10:28am EDT
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose less than expected last week and the four-week moving average of claims hit its lowest level since 2000, suggesting an abrupt slowdown in job growth in March was likely a fluke.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 for the week ended April 4, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the fifth straight week that claims remained below 300,000, a threshold that is associated with a strengthening labor market.

"The claims data provide no confirmation of the March employment slowdown," said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York.

U.S. Treasury debt yields rose on the data and also as Greece's 450 million euro loan payment to the International Monetary Fund reduced safety bids for government debt. U.S. stocks edged up at the open while the dollar rose against a basket of currencies.

Job growth slowed sharply in March, with nonfarm payrolls increasing by only 126,000, ending a 12-month stretch of employment gains above 200,000. But with the weakness mostly concentrated in the weather-sensitive leisure and construction sectors, economists downplayed the slowdown.

Last week's tepid employment report joined weak consumer and business spending, industrial production and housing starts data in suggesting the economy grew at a sub-1 percent annual rate in the first quarter.

Activity has been hit by a harsh winter, which is estimated to have chopped as much as seven-tenths of a percentage point from first-quarter growth. A now-settled labor dispute at normally busy ports on the West Coast, softer global demand and a stronger dollar also have weighed on the economy.

Economists had forecast claims rising to 285,000 last week.   Continued...

Jobseekers attend a job fair in Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2015. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen