Employment news was a headline maker last week with first-time claims for jobless benefits at their lowest level since April 2008, according to data from the Employment and Training Administration. Initial claims for the week ending January 14 dropped to 352,000, a whopping 50,000 claims down from the previous week’s revised figure of 402,000. The four-week moving average was 379,000, a decrease of 3,500 from the previous week’s revised average of 382,500.
The administration also reported that the total number of insured unemployed workers during the week ending January 7 was 3,432,000, a decrease of 215,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3,647,000. The four-week moving average was 3,576,250, a decrease of 34,000 from the preceding week’s revised average of 3,610,250. All in all, while jobless claims tend to vary from week to week, they have been on a steady downward trend.
In real estate news, existing home sales were on their third month of an upswing, reaching a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.61 million in December from a downwardly revised 4.39 million in November. Existing-home sales are 3.6 percent higher than December 2010′s 4.45 million-unit level. Overall in 2011, existing-home sales rose 1.7 percent to 4.26 million, topping sales of 4.19 million in 2010.
Building permits issued during December for private housing dropped to an annual rate of 679,000, marking a 0.1 percent drop from November’s revised rate of 680,000, the Census Bureau reported last week. That said, December’s performance was 7.8 percent above December 2010′s estimated rate of 630,000. Permits for construction of single-family homes in December were at a rate of 444,000, which was 1.8 percent above November’s revised rate of 436,000.
Construction starts on private housing in December dropped to an annual rate of 657,000, which was 4.1 percent below November’s revised estimate of 685,000, but was 24.9 percent over December 2010′s rate of 526,000. Starts on single-family housing in December were at a rate of 470,000, which was 4.4 percent over November’s revised rate of 450,000.
Completed private housing construction in December hit an annual rate of 605,000, which was 9.2 percent over November’s revised estimate of 554,000 and 7.1 percent above December 2010′s rate of 565,000. Completions of single-family homes in December were at a rate of 448,000, which was 0.9 percent below November’s revised rate of 452,000. Overall, an estimated 583,900 housing units were completed in 2011. This was 10.4 percent below the 2010 figure of 651,700.
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) was unchanged in December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all-items index increased 3 percent before seasonal adjustment.
Similar to November’s CPI-U, the energy index declined in December and offset increases in other indexes. The gasoline index declined for the third month in a row and the household energy index declined as well. The food index rose in December, with the index for food at home moving up after declining last month.
The Bureau’s Producer Price Index for finished goods declined 0.1 percent in December. Prices for finished goods moved up 0.3 percent in November and fell 0.3 percent in October. At the earlier stages of processing, the index for intermediate goods decreased 0.5 percent in December, and crude goods prices moved down 1.1 percent.
The Federal Reserve reported last week that industrial production for December increased 0.4 percent after having fallen 0.3 percent in November. For the fourth quarter as a whole, industrial production rose at an annual rate of 3.1 percent, its 10th consecutive quarterly gain.
This week will see a relatively light financial calendar, starting late on Thursday with initial jobless claims for last week from the Employment and Training Administration. Also on Thursday, the Census Bureau will release durable goods orders for December, as well as new home sales for the month. Thursday finishes up with December’s leading economic indicators from The Conference Board.