Unemployment claims hit their lowest level in four years in the week ending March 24. Initial claims for the week dipped to 359,000, a decrease of 5,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 364,000 and the lowest level since April 2008, the Employment and Training Administration reported. The four-week moving average was 365,000, a decrease of 3,500 from the previous week’s revised average of 368,500 — the lowest since May 2008.
The Administration also reported that the total number of insured unemployed workers during the week ending March 17 was 3,340,000, a decrease of 41,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3,381,000. The four-week moving average was 3,387,750, a decrease of 21,750 from the preceding week’s revised average of 3,409,500.
Despite gains on the job front, consumer confidence for March tapered a bit after an upswing in February, consumer analysts at the Conference Board reported last week. The Board’s Consumer Confidence Index for March stood at 70.2 (a baseline of 100 was set in 1982), down from 71.6 in February. That said, the Present Situation Index — how consumers feel about current economic conditions — increased to 51.0 from 46.4. The Expectations Index — how consumers feel about where the economy is headed — declined to 83 in March from 88.4 in February.
“Consumer Confidence pulled back slightly in March, after rising sharply in February,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center. “The moderate decline was due solely to a less favorable short-term outlook, while consumers’ assessment of current conditions, on the other hand, continued to improve. The Present Situation Index now stands at its highest level in three and a half years, suggesting that despite this month’s dip in confidence, consumers feel the economy is not losing momentum.”
Consumers’ assessment of the job market was mixed. Those saying jobs are “plentiful” increased to 9.4 percent from 7 percent, while those stating jobs are “hard to get” also rose, to 41 percent from 38.6 percent. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead decreased to 17.3 percent from 18.8 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs increased to 18.3 percent from 16.4 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting an increase in their incomes improved slightly to 15.8 percent from 15.5 percent.
Gross domestic product, the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States, increased at an annual rate of 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported last week in its third estimate. (The third estimate is based on more complete source data than were available for the “second” estimate issued last month.)
The increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from private inventory investment, personal consumption expenditures (PCE), nonresidential fixed investment, exports and residential fixed investment that were partly offset by negative contributions from federal government spending and state and local government spending, according to the Bureau.
In manufacturing, new orders for manufactured durable goods placed in February increased $4.5 billion or 2.2 percent to $211.8 billion, according to last week’s report from the Census Bureau. Transportation equipment, up three of the last four months, had the largest increase, $2.1 billion or 3.9 percent to $57.9 billion. Excluding transportation, new orders increased 1.6 percent. Excluding defense, new orders increased 1.7 percent.
February’s shipments of manufactured durable goods in February, down following two consecutive monthly increases, decreased $0.8 billion or 0.4 percent to $206.6 billion. Once again, inventories of manufactured durable goods hit new highs in February, which was up 26 consecutive months, increased $1.6 billion or 0.4 percent to $373.7 billion. This was at the highest level since the series was published on in 1992.
This week’s financial news starts today with February construction spending from the Census Bureau. The Bureau follows up tomorrow with factory orders for February, and the auto manufacturers release their car and truck sales figures for March on Tuesday, as well.
Thursday, the Employment and Training Administration releases initial jobless claim totals for last week, and on Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases March’s unemployment rate, payrolls, hourly earnings and average workweek. The week wraps on Friday with February’s consumer credit totals from the Federal Reserve.