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Weekly Jobless Claims Decline Sequentially

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Thursday mornings are almost always time for new weekly jobless claims figures, and it is the case again today. Both initial and continuing claims were above expectations, but lower month over month. The problem with these figures is they are lower than upwardly revised numbers from the previous week. Market indexes seem impervious, however: futures are again gradually up ahead of today’s opening bell.

Initial Jobless Claims came in at 793K, up 33K from the 760K analysts were looking for. However, this week-over-week figure is down from the 812K from the week before — which itself was upped from 779K originally reported. So over the course of the most recently reported two weeks, an additional 14K new jobless claims have been filed. Short-term, this is pointing the labor market in the wrong direction.

That said, we remain comfortably within the 12-week range — the week of January 10 we saw 927K new claims, while 716K was the low for the week of November 29th (though this may have been skewed by the Thanksgiving holiday). Also, what’s not included here are the 335K Americans who have applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), an extended plan which will hopefully keep households out of dire straits until vaccinations can finally make it everywhere they are needed.

Continuing Claims came in at 4.545 million, up from the 4.49 million expected, but lower than the previous week’s 4.69 million. This revised number is 100K higher than initially reported last week (from a week in arrears of Initial Claims data), though still down admirably on the 12-week chart. We were looking at 5+ million longer-term jobless claims as of the first of the year, and over 6 million per week back in mid-November.

As we saw in last week’s employment reports, both from the U.S. government and ADP’s (ADP - Free Report) private-sector print, labor market data is mixed. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) were in-line with estimates, they posted a downward revision from the previous month. In the private sector, ADP saw a big jump from expectations in January, and down notably on its previous revision. These metrics often reflect different realities in real time, but over the course of weeks and months tend to move more closely in tandem.

Fed Chair Jay Powell yesterday expressed concern for the U.S. labor market, suggesting that real employment is closer to 10% than the BLS headline of 6.3% last Friday. Part of this may also be related to the PUA backstop for unemployed Americans, and part of this may yet show up in future jobs figures. The week-to-week initial claims just reported this morning would tend to bear this out, as jobless claims going up are never a good thing.

But what we’re seeing in market activity is a pricing-in of a post-pandemic economy — one in which sees a big boost in business for pent-up demand, especially things like movie theaters, bars and restaurants. Airline flight bookings, hotel reservations and tourist destinations also look to have a bright light at the end of the tunnel. And while no one is certain when the economy will at last emerge, most of us believe we’re much closer to the end than the beginning.

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