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INSTANT VIEW: Jobless claims fall in latest week

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, moderating from a 26-year high touched the previous week, Labor Department data showed on Thursday.

KEY POINTS: * Despite the decline, jobless claims remain exceptionally high, and are more than 200,000 higher than a year ago. * Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits fell 21,000, to a seasonally adjusted 554,000 in the week ended December 13 from an upwardly revised 575,000 the previous week. * Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast 558,000 new claims versus a previously reported figure of 573,000 the week before. * The four-week moving average of new jobless claims, a better gauge of underlying labor trends because it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose to 543,750 from 541,000 the prior week, keeping the average at a 26-year high. * Continuing claims fell to 4.38 million in the week ended December 6 after scaling a 26-year of 4.43 million the previous week.

COMMENTS:

PETER BOOCKVAR, EQUITY STRATEGIST, MILLER TABAK & CO, NEW YORK

“It’s still at the highest level since Dec 1982. This is pretty high unemployment in the labor market. This is a terrible number.

“People would rather see things that are in line than a rise-- no question. But it’s still a very weak number. These are 26-year highs-- no one is taking any comfort in that.”

DAVID WYSS, CHIEF ECONOMIST, STANDARD & POOR’S, NEW YORK:

“They’re just slightly better than the consensus. So we got that huge jump the previous week to 26-year high, so this drop looks good. But if you actually look at it with a little more perspective, this is still an awfully high number.

“The four-week average is very high. The insured unemployment rate, which I think is the key number here, is 3.2 percent, which is the same as the previous week, and that’s actually a little better than expected... Overall, it’s a bad number but a little better than we thought it would be.”

RUDY NARVAS, SENIOR ANALYST, 4CAST LTD, NEW YORK:

“It came spot on our forecast, but still the underlying trend is negative for the jobs market. The big surprise is that continuing claims actually rose instead of falling. That suggests that jobless people are not finding jobs at all and the attrition of people who are getting laid off versus people who are getting hired is still in the negative and probably getting more negative. The December payrolls is shaping up to be something which is just as bad as November if not worse.”

PIERRE ELLIS, SENIOR ECONOMIST, DECISION ECONOMICS, NEW YORK:

“Initial claims continued to show a very serious deterioration of the labor market in December. It looks as bad or worse than it did last month.”

MICHAEL JAMES, SENIOR TRADER, REGIONAL INVESTMENT BANK WEDBUSH MORGAN, LOS ANGELES:

“It’s the first decline we’ve seen in a while...and a positive sign. But there shouldn’t be too much emphasis placed on it just yet because it’s only a weekly number. We’re going to need to see several more weeks of declining numbers. I don’t think this by itself will be a big contributor to the market.”

DANA SAPORTA, ANALYST, DRESDNER KLEINWORT, NEW YORK:

“The claims were about in line with expectations.

“The market reaction is tough to interpret but this provides further evidence that not only are we in a deep recession, it may be one of the worst recessions seen in the past 50 years.”

MARKET REACTION: STOCKS: U.S. equity index futures slightly higher after jobless claims data roughly meets forecasts. BONDS: U.S. 30-year Treasury bonds pare gains. DOLLAR: U.S. dollar little changed versus major rivals.

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