First-time claims for state unemployment benefits retreated sharply in the latest week after hitting their highest level since late March in the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The number of initial claims fell 42,000 to 338,000 in the week ended Dec. 21. The consensus forecast of Wall Street economists was for claims to fall to about 345,000. This is the largest drop in weekly claims since November 2012. Analysts cautioned not to read too much into the data owing to difficulties seasonally adjusting the data around the holidays. These distortions can last until the beginning of next year.
There's been quite a bit of seasonal volatility in initial unemployment claims lately, but the final report of the calendar year shows 2013 ending on a positive note.
The sharp drop was the largest one-week improvement in over a year.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, despite the recent spike, we've been below 370,000 in 10 of the last 11 weeks.
Above you'll find the chart showing weekly, initial unemployment claims going back to the beginning of 2007. (Remember, unlike the monthly jobs chart, a lower number is good news.) For context, I've added an arrow to show the point at which President Obama's Recovery Act began spending money.