US jobless claims hit monthly low


The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell last week to near a four-year low but an unusual pattern for summer factory shutdowns kept hopes in check that the weak labour market was improving.

Other data today showed new orders for long-lasting US manufactured goods rose in June although a gauge of planned business spending plans dropped, pointing to a slowdown in factory activity.

Economists said the two economic reports did little to change the view that the economy was stuck in a rough patch.

"They both look good on the surface, but I don't think there's really anything to get excited about," said Stephen Stanley, an economist at Pierpont Securities in Stamford, Connecticut.

The labour market has suffered three months of sub-100,000 job growth as the economy slowed amid a cloud of uncertainty spawned by fears of sharp contraction in fiscal policy and debt problems in Europe.

Last week, initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 35,000 to a seasonally adjusted 353,000, the Labor Department said. That was a much sharper drop than economists expected.

The reading for jobless claims has been volatile this month because of the timing of the annual auto plant shutdowns for retooling. The number of new claims had touched a four-year low in the July 7th week at 352,000.

One measure that tries to smooth out this volatility, the four-week moving average, fell 8,750 last week to 367,250.

"The good news there is on average over the last four weeks the number is improving," said Art Hogan, managing director of Lazard Capital Markets in New York.

This year, car makers are carrying out fewer temporary plant shutdowns, throwing off the model the department uses to smooth the data for typical seasonal patterns.

A Labor Department official said they were still experiencing volatility related to the car layoffs that usually happen at this time of year. Otherwise, the data had few blips.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers last week that the US central bank, which last month expanded its efforts to spur the economy, would take additional action if officials concluded no progress was being made towards higher levels of employment.

In a separate report, the US commerce department said durable good orders increased 1.6 per cent in June as demand for aircraft surged. That was also higher than Wall Street economists expected.