Claims Data Indicate Labor Market Remains Strong Even As Unemployment Benefits Rise! What Do the Experts Say?


 The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but the underlying trend remained consistent with a strong labor market.

Initial claims for jobless benefits rose 21,000 to 211,000 for the week ending March 4, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had even forecast 195,000 claims for the latest week.

Claims have remained below 200,000 for seven straight weeks, suggesting that high-profile job cuts in the technology sector have not had a material impact on the labor market.

Data on Wednesday showed there were 1.9 job openings for every unemployed person in January. The Fed's Beige Book described the job market as remaining "firm" in February.

With the labor market consistently strong, inflation readings were strong and consumer spending was strong in January. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told lawmakers this week that the U.S. central bank may have to raise interest rates more than expected.

Financial markets have priced in a 50 basis point rate hike at the Fed's March 21-22 policy meeting, according to CME Group's FedWatch tool. The Fed has increased its policy rate by 450 basis points since last March from near zero to a range of 4.50%-4.75%.

The number of people receiving benefits after the initial week of aid, a proxy for hiring, rose 69,000 to 1.718 million in the week ended Feb. 25. Claims are said to have remained low, suggesting some of the laid-off workers could easily find new jobs.

Market focus turns again to the NFP data to be published on Friday with expectations of an increase of 205,000 jobs in February after a jump of 517,000 in January.