Fewer Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, dropping the average over the past month to the lowest in 15 years, indicating companies are holding on to workers.
Jobless claims increased by 3,000 to 265,000 in the week ended May 2, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected 278,000. The four-week average, a less-volatile measure, fell to 279,500, the least since May 2000.
The dearth of applications for unemployment benefits shows demand remains strong enough for employers to maintain staffing levels. A report Friday may answer the question of whether they also need to continue beefing up headcounts after the economy slowed in the first quarter.
“Claims at these types of levels would be consistent with a strong payroll number,” said Ray Stone, an economist at Stone & McCarthy Research Associates in Princeton, New Jersey, who correctly predicted the initial claims figure. Jobless claims “are the most timely indicator of labor-market conditions, so on the margin things look pretty good.”
Stone forecasts employment climbed by 300,000 in April.
Stock-index futures fell as investors waited for Friday’s jobs data. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in June declined 0.2 percent to 2,069.9 at 8:47 a.m. in New York.
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of economists ranged from 260,000 to 295,000. The prior week’s claims were unrevised at 262,000, the lowest level since April 2000.