US unemployment claims continue to fall

Thursday 16 January 2014 15.59
New unemployment claims fell after a sharp drop in jobs growth last month
New unemployment claims fell after a sharp drop in jobs growth last month

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell for a second week last week, suggesting a sharp step-down in job growth in December was likely to be temporary.

Other data has shown that consumer prices recorded their largest increase in six months in December as gasoline prices rebounded. 

There was, however, little to suggest a broader pick-up in prices, with underlying inflation muted.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, the country’s Labor Department said.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to fall to 328,000 in the week ended 11 January.

The four-week moving average for new claims fell 13,500 to 335,000.

Job growth slowed sharply in December, with employers adding only 74,000 new jobs to their payrolls. 

Nonfarm payrolls had increased 241,000 in November and the retreat last month was blamed on cold weather.

US Treasuries extended gains after the data, while the dollar fell against the euro and the yen. US stock index futures were trading lower.

In a second report, the Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index increased 0.3% after being flat in November. 

In the 12 months to December, consumer prices accelerated 1.5% after advancing 1.2% in November.

The increases were in line with economists' expectations.

Stripping out the volatile energy and food components, the so-called core CPI rose only 0.1%, slowing from a 0.2% gain in November.

That left its increase over the past 12 months at 1.7%, where it has now been for four consecutive months.

The Fed targets 2% inflation, although it tracks a gauge that tends to run a bit below CPI.

The US central bank has started reducing the pace of its monthly bond purchases, but persistently low inflation is expected to see it hold interest rates near zero for a long time even if the jobs market picks up significantly.

Slack in the jobs market, which has seen small gains in wages, is keeping the lid on inflation. 

Even as the economy accelerates, wage growth is expected to lag, meaning inflation is likely to only gradually increase this year.