The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but remained below a level associated with a strong labor market.
Another report on Thursday showed announced job cuts by U.S.-based employers fell in March for a second straight month.
Labor market strength, however, has not been accompanied by robust wage growth, making it unlikely the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates soon. The U.S. central bank is also keeping a cautious eye on international developments.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 276,000 for the week ended March26, the Labor Department said. The prior week's claims were unrevised. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims remaining unchanged at 265,000 in the latest week.
Applications for unemployment benefits have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with healthy labor market conditions, for 55 weeks, the longest stretch since 1973. With the labor market continuing to tighten, there is little scope for significant further declines in claims.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and no states had been estimated.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,500 to 263,250 last week.
U.S. Treasury prices edged up after the data, while the dollar extended losses. U.S. stock futures were largely unchanged. The claims data has no bearing on Friday's employment report for March, as it falls outside the survey period. Claims were generally low last month, suggesting that job growth remained solid.
According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 205,000 this month after rising by 242,000 in February. The unemployment rate is forecast unchanged at an eight-year low of 4.9 percent.
In a separate report, global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas said U.S.-based employers announced 48,207 jobs cuts this month, down 21.7 percent from February.
"Job cuts have slowed since surging in the first two months of the year," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Through the first quarter of 2016, employers announced 184,920 job cuts, up 31.8 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015, with the energy sector accounting for the bulk of the layoffs. There were also job losses in the retail and computer sectors.
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