U.S. initial jobless claims hit three-month high of 240,000

By Geoffrey Smith 

Investing.com -- The number of people making initial claims for unemployment benefits rose by more than expected to a three-month high, adding to increasingly clear signs that the labor market is cooling in response to the Federal Reserve's sequence of big hikes in interest rates.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said initial jobless claims rose to 240,000 last week from 223,000 the previous week. That's the highest number since August when the numbers were distorted by maintenance schedules at the auto industry. The rolling four-week average for initial claims, which smooths out some of the series' volatility, rose to 226,750, the highest since September.

Continuing claims also rose by 48,000, more than expected, to 1.551 million, their highest since February, an indication that it's getting harder for the laid-off to find new jobs immediately.

"The trend in claims is now rising gently, as firms come under increasing pressure from the Fed's aggressive tightening," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist with Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note to clients, pointing to other indicators such as the Challenger monthly job cuts survey. Shepherdson said he expects weekly claims to rise to around 275,000 within the next three months - "enough to signal a clear softening in payroll growth."

By contrast, other economic data released at the same time showed surprising strength. Durable goods orders rose by 1.0%, defying expectations for a decline. Core goods also rose, although by only 0.5%. The numbers are the latest to suggest that the easing of supply chain bottlenecks over this year has helped to cushion the impact of slowing demand for appliances and other big-ticket items as consumer spending reverts to a more normal pattern in the wake of the pandemic.

"High inflation means these nominal data overstate the real strength of durable goods," said Oxford Economics Oren Klachkin. "However this upside surprise is the latest in a recent string of economic data that show the economy is maintaining fairly healthy momentum heading into year-end."

The numbers weren't dramatic enough to move U.S. financial markets much on the last day of trading before the Thanksgiving holiday. The S&P 500 opened effectively flat at 4,002 points.

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