After reading today’s weekly update on jobless claims the Fed’s comment yesterday that “economic activity has been expanding at a solid pace” carries more weight. Indeed, new filings for unemployment benefits dropped by a staggering 43,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 265,000—the lowest in nearly 15 years. The shortened business week due to the Martin Luther King holiday no doubt played a role, but for the moment it’s hard to spin today’s numbers into anything other than a positive sign for the economy.
Okay, it might be noise. Jobless claims are notoriously volatile from week to week and the revisions can be dramatic and so any one number should be viewed with a hefty dose of suspicion on initial release. That said, today’s number arrives after a long run of falling claims data and so there’s good reason to think that the generally fading pace of layoffs remains intact.
Note too that claims tumbled 23% last week vs. the year-earlier level, another sign that the downward momentum is quite strong. If and when we see claims rising on an annual basis we’ll have a compelling reason to worry about the US business cycle. But that warning sign is nowhere in sight.