WASHINGTON -- More Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as annual auto-plant shutdowns continued to affect data.
Jobless claims rose by 7,000 to 343,000 in the week ended July 20 from a revised 336,000 the prior period, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected 340,000. The retooling at carmakers and school closings typical during this time of year continued to influence the figures last week, a spokesman said as the data were released.
Beyond the swings, the job market is improving as firings slow and payroll gains pick up, raising the odds that consumer spending will accelerate in the second half of the year. Fewer dismissals would lay the foundation for larger gains in hiring as the peak of the drag from government budget cuts passes.
“The trend in claims is fairly stable,” said Sean Incremona, a senior economist at 4Cast Inc. in New York, who projected an increase in claims. “We’re sustaining the improvement we saw from late last year, but not necessarily gaining a great deal of momentum on top of that.”
Orders for durable goods rose more than forecast in June, pointing to a pickup in manufacturing that will help the economy accelerate in the second half of the year, figures from the Commerce Department also showed today.
Bookings for goods meant to last at least three years increased 4.2 percent after a revised 5.2 percent gain in May that was bigger than initially reported. The median forecast of 79 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 1.4 percent advance.
Stock-index futures held earlier losses after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in September dropped 0.4 percent to 1,676.9 at 9 a.m. in New York.
Economists’ estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from claims of 325,000 to 370,000 after an initially reported 334,000 the previous week.
No states estimated jobless claims last week, the Labor Department spokesman said.
Auto plants typically shut down in early July to retool for the new model year, often playing havoc with the claims data.
Automobile companies have altered their annual shutdown schedules this year in response to the increase in demand for new vehicles.
Ford Motor Co. earlier said it will idle most of its North American assembly plants for one week this summer instead of two, to increase output. Three of Chrysler Group LLC’s assembly plants and all except one of its engine, transmission and stamping factories will skip a summer shutdown this year. Since its 2009 bankruptcy, General Motors Co. hasn’t had a formal summer shutdown, Mark Reuss, president of the company’s North American operations, told reporters in May.
The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, declined to 345,250 last week, the lowest since May, from 346,500.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 119,000 to 3 million in the week ended July 13. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.