First-time claims for unemployment insurance payments declined more than forecast last week to the lowest level since early October, adding to evidence the labor market is improving.
Applications for jobless benefits fell by 29,000 to 343,000 in the week ended Dec. 8, the fewest since reaching a four-year low in the period ended Oct. 6, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 369,000 claims, according to the Bloomberg survey median. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls declined for a fourth straight week.
Jobless claims have dropped 108,000 in the latest four weeks after a superstorm Sandy-related surge, indicating companies are comfortable with current staffing levels. To help encourage more hiring, the Federal Reserve said yesterday that it intends to keep policy accommodative until unemployment falls to 6.5 percent from the current 7.7 percent.
“The job market is holding up reasonably well,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the best forecaster of claims in the past two years, according to Bloomberg data. At the same time, “expectations are tempered somewhat by the uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff” of tax increases and budget cuts in 2013, he said.
Other reports today showed a decline wholesale prices and a rebound in retail sales in November. The 0.3 percent gain in purchases reflected stronger sales of automobiles, electronics and clothes, according to Commerce Department data.
Stock-index futures were little changed after the figures. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring this month fell 0.1 percent to 1,426.3 at 8:54 a.m. in New York.
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