US weekly jobless claims near 49-year low; import prices fall
Other data on Thursday showed import prices dropping by the most in more than three years in November as the cost of petroleum products tumbled and a strong dollar weighed on prices of other goods, pointing to subdued imported inflation.
Tightening labor market conditions bolster expectations that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates at its Dec. 18-19 policy meeting. With inflation likely to remain tame through the first half of 2019, economists see fewer rate hikes next year.
The Fed has increased borrowing costs three times this year.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 206,000 for the week ended Dec. 8, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Last week’s decline in claims was the largest since April 2015. Claims hit 202,000 in mid-September, which was the lowest level since December 1969.
Data for the prior week was revised to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 225,000 in the latest week. Claims shot up to an eight-month high of 235,000 during the week ended Nov. 24.
The Labor Department said only claims for Virginia were estimated last week.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 3,750 to 224,750 last week.
While difficulties adjusting the data around holidays likely boosted applications in prior weeks, there were worries the labor market was losing momentum given financial market volatility, the fading stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package and the Trump administration’s protectionist trade policy.
Last week’s sharp drop in claims also suggests a slowdown in job growth in November was likely the result of worker shortages. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 155,000 jobs after surging by 237,000 in October.
With the unemployment rate near a 49-year low of 3.7 percent, Fed officials view the labor market as being at or beyond full employment.
US Treasury yields briefly edged up after the data. U.S. stock index futures were trading higher while the dollar .DXY was slightly stronger against a basket of currencies.
In a second report on Thursday, the Labor Department said import prices dropped 1.6 percent last month, the biggest decline since August 2015, after an unrevised 0.5 percent increase in October.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices decreasing 0.9 percent in November.
In the 12 months through November, import prices rose 0.7 percent. That was the smallest annual increase since November 2016 and followed a 3.3 percent rise in October. – Reuters