A trend of modestly improved economic news continued the trend it has been on for several months Thursday with the Department of Labor’s announcement that first-time claims for unemployment benefits remained below 400,000 again. The Census Bureau reported a substantial rise of 3 percent in purchases of durable goods. Both reports were better than analysts had forecast.
For the week ending Jan. 21, seasonally adjusted initial claims rose to 377,000. That is 21,000 more than the previous week’s figure, which was revised upward slightly to 356,000. The four-week moving average, which is preferred by economists because it flattens volatility in the weekly figures, was a close match at 377,500, a decrease of 2,500 from the previous week. The week ending Jan. 14 saw the biggest drop in first-time claims since September 2005 and the lowest those claims had been since March 2008. This up-and-down fluctuation of the weekly figures is typical at this time of year because of seasonal hiring and lay-offs associated with the holiday retail sales binge.
Including federally extended “emergency” unemployment benefits, the number of people receiving claims for the week ending Jan. 7 was 7,638,233. That’s down 188,612 from the previous week.
Meanwhile, the Census Bureau announced in its monthly report that sales of durable goods were up 3 percent, another indication that manufacturing growth is continuing.
New orders for manufactured durable goods in December increased $ 6.2 billion or 3.0 percent to $ 214.5 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau announced today. This increase, up five of the last six months, followed a 4.3 percent November increase. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 2.1 percent. Excluding defense, new orders increased 3.5 percent.
Transportation equipment, up two consecutive months, had the largest increase, $ 3.0 billion or 5.5 percent to $ 58.4 billion. This was due to nondefense aircraft and parts, which increased $ 3.1 billion. consecutive months, had the largest increase, $ 1.7 billion or 1.5 percent to $ 116.4 billion.
Analysts had forecast only a 2.2 percent rise in durable goods purchases.
While the overall job situation remains dicey, to say the least, with more than 13 million officially unemployed and another 12 or so million unemployed, the more or less steady stream of good economic news is likely to undercut Republican claims that President Obama’s policies have wrecked the economy and only their austerity measures can fix things. On the other hand, slippage in economic growth in China and the continuing Eurozone crisis could turn the news sour again the way problems did in the spring of 2011, including the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.