Better US jobs and housing figures

Thursday 16 February 2012 13.55
US jobless claims fall to lowest level since March 2008
US jobless claims fall to lowest level since March 2008

Hopes that the US economy is gaining momentum have been boosted by the latest figures on jobless claims and house-building.

A Labor Department report showed that new US claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week to a near four-year low.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the lowest level since March 2008. The previous week's figure was revised up to 361,000 from the previously reported 358,000. Economists had expected claims to increase last week.

The four-week moving average for new claims, seen as a better measure of labour market trends, fell 1,750 to 365,250 - the lowest since April 2008.

Last week's drop pushed claims below the 350,000 level that economists normally associate with sustained strength in the labour market. New jobless claims have declined for three straight weeks. The US unemployment rate dropped to a three-year low of 8.3% in January. But considerable slack still remains, with 23.8 million Americans either out of work or underemployed.

Separate figures show that US housing starts rose by more than expected in January due to a surge in the construction of rental property. The figures boosted hopes that the country's still-weak housing sector could help economic growth this year.

The Commerce Department said housing starts climbed 1.5% to an annual rate of 699,000 units. Initial estimates for housing starts can be subject to large revisions and the government revised the December reading significantly higher to 689,000 units from an initial 657,000.

Starts of multi-unit buildings, which are often rented, jumped 8.5% last month. New construction on buildings with five units or more increased 14.4%. Groundbreaking on single-family units, which make up a much larger portion of the sector, fell 1%.

Big rise in core US producer prices

Official figures show that US producer prices outside food and energy recorded their largest increase in six months in January.

The Labor Department said its seasonally adjusted core producer price index rose 0.4% last month, the largest gain since July, after increasing 0.3% in December. Economists had expected a 0.2% rise.

In the 12 months to January, core producer prices rose 3% after increasing 2.7% in December.

But overall prices received by farms, factories and refineries edged up 0.1% in January after dipping 0.1% in December. The rise, which was smaller than economists' expectations, reflected declines in food and energy prices.

In the 12 months to January, producer prices increased 4.1%, moderating from 4.8% in December.

The Federal Reserve last month viewed inflation as largely contained and said it expected to hold interest rates near zero at least through late 2014.