April 19, 2013

Aid requests signal gradual job growth

Initial jobless claims rose slightly last week, but the four-week average is near the lowest in five years.


WASHINGTON - The number of people who applied last week for new unemployment benefits appeared to stabilize after a pair of large swings, reflecting a status-quo labor market in which companies are only gradually hiring new workers.

Initial jobless claims rose by 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 352,000 in the week ended April 13, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was slightly above Wall Street expectations.

"Not too hot, not too cold -- that seems to be the continuing story for the jobs market," said Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors.

New claims shot up to 388,000 from 357,000 in the last week of March, before dropping back to 348,000 in the first week of April, making it harder to read labor-market trends.

Economists and Labor Department officials say the claims figures -- a rough gauge of layoffs -- are often volatile around Easter and spring break, especially when the holiday falls in a different week than usual. That can throw a wrench into the government's process for seasonal adjustments.

Economists pay more attention to the four-week average, which smooths out weekly volatility. Monthly claims edged up by 2,750 to 361,250 to mark a two-month high. Still, the four-week average remains near its lowest level in five years, and it's likely to fall further in the next few weeks as the effects of the end-of-March spike fade.

The latest batch of economic reports, including initial claims, show the U.S. is still expanding but at a slackened pace. Economists widely expect growth in the second quarter to decelerate sharply from the first three months of the year -- to a 1.8 percent pace from an estimated 3 percent in the first quarter.


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