Government reports durable goods orders, jobless claims

Toro lawn mowers sit on display at Diller-Rod Inc. Durable goods orders, including aircraft, inched up 0.2%. (Daniel Acker / Bloomberg / May 24, 2012)

After jobless claims reached a five-month high in April, last week’s tiny dip came as a relief. But a heavy slide in orders for long-lasting goods is less soothing.

Applications for unemployment benefits shrank by 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 370,000 after reaching 392,000 in April, according to the Labor Department. In March, new claims dropped to a four-year low.

The government releases its official report on May job growth June 1. The unemployment rate last month was 8.1%.

On Wednesday, Hewlett Packard Co. said it was laying off 27,000 workers – or 8% of its total head count – over the next two years. Earlier this week, Cheerios maker General Mills Inc. said it would cut 850 jobs.

Overall, though, the stability bodes well for the job market. But another report Thursday provided some cause for concern for manufacturers.

Orders for non-defense durable goods meant to last at least three years, excluding aircraft, plunged 1.9% in April after tumbling 2.2% in March.

Factoring in orders for commercial planes, a volatile measure, brought overall demand up 0.2% to $215.5 billion, according to the Commerce Department. In April, manufacturing activity reached a 10-month high, according to the Institute for Supply Management.

But the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation put a positive spin on the numbers, saying that since the start of the year, commercial capital goods orders sans aircraft are up 7.8% and that factory demand is “growing at a moderately strong pace that is much faster than that of the general economy.”

“We believe there is pent-up demand for motor vehicles and capital goods because much investment was postponed during the recession,” said chief economist Daniel Meckstroth in a statement. “High operating rates in manufacturing, new job creation, and low interest rates are conducive to capital spending.”

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