The number of applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly increased last week, a sign labor market momentum may be starting to cool.
Initial jobless claims rose by 7,000 to 284,000 in the week ended Jan. 9, the second-highest level since July, a report from the Labor Department showed on Thursday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a decline to 275,000.
Concerns that a slowdown in China and other emerging economies will limit prospects for U.S. growth have roiled equity markets and may make some employers more cautious about their staffing levels. A sustained pickup in the pace of dismissals that takes claims well above 300,000 will probably be needed to confirm demand for workers is waning.
“This time of the year claims are pretty volatile given the difficulty of trying to adjust for the various holidays and the start of the quarter,” said Kevin Cummins, an economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, whose forecast for claims was among the closest in the Bloomberg survey. “Our assumption is the labor market is going to remain healthy, just at a somewhat more moderate pace of job growth.”
Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey for weekly jobless claims ranged from 270,000 to 310,000. The previous week’s figure was unrevised at 277,000. Factories and transportation and warehousing were among the industries with firings during that period ended Jan. 2.
While Puerto Rico estimated jobless claims last week, there was nothing unusual in the data, according to the Labor Department.
The four-week moving average of claims, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, increased to 278,750 from 275,750. The average was the highest since July.