Jobless Claims Slide, Import Prices Rise, Trade Gap Up

According to the economic report released today, weekly jobless claims fell to their lowest level in four years and the US trade deficit widened while import prices rose more than expected. The sharp drop offers a hopeful sign that the job market could pick up.

By: AP
Published: Thursday, 11 Oct 2012
CNBC

Weekly jobless claims fell to their lowest level in four years, while the U.S. trade deficit widened and import prices rose more than expected, according to economic numbers released Thursday.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid plummeted to 339,000 last week, the lowest level in more than four years. The sharp drop offered a hopeful sign that the job market could pick up.

The Labor Department said weekly applications fell by 30,000 to the lowest level since February 2008. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped by 11,500 to 364,000, a six-month low.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they consistently drop below 375,000, it suggests that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

A Labor Department spokesman cautioned that the weekly applications can be volatile, particularly at the start of a quarter. And the spokesman said one large state accounted for much of the decline. The spokesman did not name the state.

"Thus, throw out the number and we'll try again next week," said Peter Boockvar, managing director at Miller Tabak in New York.

The decline adds to other evidence that hiring is improving. Last week's jobs report showed the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent, the first time it has fallen below 8 percent since January 2009.

But some economists said they want to see more data before suggesting the job market is turning around.

"Should this level hold for another week, it would flag a meaningful improvement in October" hiring, said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, in a note to clients.

Dan Greenhaus, chief market strategist at BTIG LLC, is also reserving judgment. "Are things that much better all of a sudden? Perhaps. We're going to wait for some corroborating data." In other economic news, the U.S. trade deficit widened in August as exports fell to the lowest level in six months, a worrisome sign that a slowing global economy is cutting into demand for U.S. goods.

The Commerce Department says the deficit increased to $44.2 billion in August, the biggest gap since May and a 4.1 percent increase from July.

Exports dropped 1 percent to $181.3 billion. Demand for American-made cars and farm goods declined. Imports edged down a slight 0.1 percent to $225.5 billion as purchases of foreign-made autos, aircraft and heavy machinery fell. The cost of oil imports rose sharply.

A wider trade deficit acts as a drag on growth because it means the U.S. is earning less on overseas sales of American-produced goods while spending more on foreign products.

A separate Labor Department report showed that overall U.S. import prices rose 1.1 percent for the second consecutive month in September, while U.S. export prices rose 0.8 percent.

Both increases were above expectations.

Analysts surveyed before the report had expected a 0.7 percent increase in import prices and a 0.4 percent rise in export prices.

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