U.S. labor market firming; inflation remains benign

Thu Aug 11, 2016 11:19am EDT
 
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength in early August that could help spur faster economic growth.

Other data on Thursday showed an unexpected rise in import prices in July as a drop in petroleum prices was offset by gains in the cost of other goods. However, renewed dollar strength is expected to curb underlying inflation in the coming months.

"The data remain consistent with a still-strong trend in employment growth, which means the backdrop for consumer spending remains favorable," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 266,000 for the week ended Aug. 6, the Labor Department said. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 fewer applications received than previously reported. Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a strong labor market, for 75 straight weeks, the longest streak since 1973 when the labor force was smaller.

The four-week average of claims, considered to be a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,000 to 262,750 last week.

With the labor market perceived to be either at or approaching full employment, there is probably little room for further declines in claims. A report on Wednesday showed layoffs fell to a near two-year low in June.

The upbeat claims report and better-than-expected financial results from retailers Kohl (KSS.N: Quote) and Macy's (M.N: Quote) boosted U.S. stocks. Prices for U.S. government debt fell, while the dollar .DXY was largely changed against a basket of currencies.

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Job seekers work with recruiters at GRID Alternatives solar job fair in San Francisco, California, U.S. July 15, 2015.   REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/File Photo - RTSMER7