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Claims for jobless benefits slide as import prices rise

From Reuters

The number of U.S. workers seeking initial jobless benefits fell 20,000 last week and import prices rose last month despite a drop in oil prices, suggesting a resilient economy still facing inflation risks.

The sharper-than-expected drop in first-time claims for unemployment aid took initial filings down to 304,000 in the week ended Dec. 9, the lowest since mid-October, a Labor Department report showed Thursday.

A separate report from the agency showed that U.S. import prices posted a surprising 0.2% rise in November, even though oil import prices fell. Analysts had expected prices to hold steady.

The jobless claims data suggested that the labor market remains solid, economist Brian Sack of Macroeconomic Advisers said.

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Although economists cautioned that holiday-season volatility made it difficult to be certain of the underlying trend in layoffs, a four-week moving average of jobless claims offered a further suggestion of solid labor-market conditions. The average slipped 1,500 to 327,250 last week from 328,750 the previous week.

The report on November imports showed a 0.7% gain in non-petroleum prices, the biggest jump since May.

Natural gas import prices shot up 30.3%, the steepest climb since November 2004. Prices for non-petroleum industrial supplies and materials rose 2.9%, the biggest rise since October 2005.

Petroleum import prices fell 1.6%, the third monthly decline. However, petroleum prices were up 1.5% for the year that ended in November. The report also showed that export prices rose a greater-than-expected 0.4%.

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