U.S. jobless claims near 43-year low; wholesale inventories surge

Thu Feb 9, 2017 10:40am EST
 
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to near a 43-year low, amid a further tightening of the labor market that could eventually spur faster wage growth.

Other data on Thursday showed inventories at wholesalers surged in December for a second straight month and sales recorded their biggest increase since 2011, signs of confidence in the economy as domestic demand strengthens.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 234,000 for the week ended Feb. 4, the Labor Department said. That left claims just shy of the 43-year low of 233,000 touched in early November.

Claims have now remained below 300,000, a threshold associated with a strong labor market, for 101 straight weeks. That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.

"There is no sign of a pickup in layoff activity. We continue to view the signal of extremely subdued layoffs from the jobless claims data as evidence of companies attempting to retain their workers in a tight labor market," said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York.

Prices of U.S. Treasuries fell, with yields rising to session highs, while the dollar rose against a basket of currencies.

The labor market is at or close to full employment, with the unemployment rate at 4.8 percent after hitting a more than nine-year low of 4.6 percent in November. The economy created 227,000 jobs in January.

Further tightening in labor market conditions could boost wage growth, which has remained stubbornly sluggish despite anecdotal evidence of more companies struggling to find qualified workers.   Continued...

 
Applicants fill out forms during a job fair at the Southeast LA-Crenshaw WorkSource Center in Los Angeles November 20, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni