US labor market loosening as weekly jobless claims hit three-month high


  • Weekly jobless claims increase 13,000 to 231,000
  • Continuing claims rise 32,000 to 1.865 million
  • Import prices drop 0.8% in October
  • Manufacturing production plummets 0.7%

WASHINGTON, Nov 16 (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits increased to a three-month high last week, suggesting that the labor market was gradually cooling in another boost to the Federal Reserve’s fight against inflation.

The weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday, the most timely data on the economy’s health, also showed unemployment rolls expanding to levels last seen two years ago. The labor market is slowing as higher interest rates curb demand, consistent with slowing economic activity.

It added to data this week showing subsiding inflation and a moderation in consumer spending in bolstering expectations that the Fed’s monetary policy tightening cycle is complete.

Still, the rise in both initial and continuing claims likely does not signal a material shift in labor market conditions. Economists noted difficulties adjusting the data for seasonal fluctuations following an unprecedented surge in applications for unemployment benefits early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Further modest progress has been made towards lowering inflation and rebalancing the labor market,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economic advisor at Brean Capital in New York. “We have reservations about the seasonal factors, which may have been distorted by claims during the Covid period.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 231,000 for the week ended Nov. 11, the highest since August. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 220,000 claims for the latest week. Claims are in the middle of their 194,000-265,000 range for this year.

Unadjusted claims increased 1,713 to 215,874 last week. There was a jump in filings in Massachusetts and New York, which more than offset notable decreases in Oregon and Georgia.

“Overall the data suggest that the labor market might be cooling but that conditions are not particularly bad,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York. “The initial claims data can be volatile, particularly around holidays like Veterans Day, so we never want to over-react to just one week of data.”

Job growth slowed in October and the unemployment rate rose to an almost two-year high of 3.9%. Conditions remain fairly tight, with 1.5 job openings per every unemployed person in September. Economists at Goldman Sachs said they did not believe that October’s increase in the jobless rate was a bad omen, noting that the rise in the unemployment rate since April has come entirely from an expansion in the size of the labor force rather than a decline in employment.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading lower after Walmart (WMT.N) said Americans continued to exercise caution with their spending because of higher prices and borrowing costs.

The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices rose, with yields approaching two-month lows.

Reuters Graphics

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