U.S. initial jobless claims rise to 285,000

The U.S. labor market may have softened in early 2016.

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Initial jobless claims rose in the last week of January but remained at a very low level, suggesting the labor market is still sound despite a rocky start to 2016 for the U.S. economy.

New claims rose by 8,000 a seasonally adjusted 285,000 in the seven days stretching from Jan. 24 to Jan 30, the government said Thursday. The increase was a bit higher than the 280,000 forecast of economists polled by MarketWatch.

The four-week average of initial claims increased by 2,000 to 284,750. The monthly number is viewed as a more reliable indicator of labor-market trends.

Any number below 300,000 is historically considered a sign of a robust labor market, but claims are no longer falling rapidly, as they did from 2010 to 2015.

In the last two weeks of January, for example, the number of new claims was slightly higher compared with the same two weeks in 2014. It’s the first time in three years that has happened for two weeks in a row.

Some economists suspect foul weather in the East may have pushed claims a bit higher. “Typically, this sort of weather event tends to cause a brief increase in claims, as business closures and disruptions lead to a flow of filings,” wrote Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.

He said it will take a few more weeks to determine if it was just a temporary blip or part of a broader trend.

Yet other labor-market cues this week from an ADP employment report and two ISM business surveys also suggest a somewhat slower pace of job creation in the new year.

The Labor Department on Friday will offer more concrete evidence via the monthly employment report for January. Economists predict the number of new jobs will taper to 180,000 from a large 292,000 gain in December.

That could make investors a bit more jittery about the state of the U.S. economy in light of a series of indicators pointing to slower growth. Stocks have taken a beating in the past month amid fresh worries about the global economy.

Meanwhile, 2.26 million people collected weekly unemployment checks in the seven days ended Jan 23. These so-called continuing claims were 18,000 lower compared with the prior week.

A separate report out Thursday showed the in the fourth quarter, marking the biggest decline in almost two years.

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