Initial jobless claims rose 10,000 last week, which follows the previous week’s huge 64,000 surge. The back-to-back increases put claims at a seasonally adjusted 379,000—the highest since March. More troubling is the second week of year-over-year increases, which hasn’t happened since Hurricane Sandy played havoc with the data in November 2012. But there’s no weather-related factor to blame this time.
Let’s not go off the deep end just yet. Keep in mind that claims data is notoriously volatile and so it’s easy to be misled by focusing on the latest data points. Tune in next week when we learn if the last two updates for this data set are deceiving us.
One reason for thinking that today’s report isn’t as ominous as it seems: the encouraging macro profile via a broad set of economic and financial indicators. As I discussed earlier today, the US economy appears to be humming along rather well at the moment, at least through November. The question is whether December will mark a turn for the worse? No, according to the initial December estimates of Markit’s manufacturing and services surveys for the US. But today’s claims report suggests otherwise. Hmmm…
We’ll soon locate the joker in this deck. But for now, there’s a bit more uncertainty about what comes next. If the claims numbers are accurately reflecting rising distress in the labor market, we’ll see corroborating evidence in the days and weeks to come. What should we do in the meantime? The usual prescription applies: wait for more data.