New Jobless Claims at 320K, Much Higher Than Forecast

March 5, 2015

by Doug Short

Here is the opening statement from the Department of Labor:

In the week ending February 28, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 320,000, an increase of 7,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 313,000. The 4-week moving average was 304,750, an increase of 10,250 from the previous week's unrevised average of 294,500.

There were no special factors impacting this week's initial claims.
[See full report]

Today's seasonally adjusted 320K came in well above the Investing.com forecast of 295K. The four-week moving average at 304,750 is now 25,750 above its 14-year interim low set in early November of last year.

Here is a close look at the data over the past few years (with a callout for the past year), which gives a clearer sense of the overall trend in relation to the last recession and the volatility in recent months.

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As we can see, there's a good bit of volatility in this indicator, which is why the 4-week moving average (the highlighted number) is a more useful number than the weekly data. Here is the complete data series.

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The headline BLS data is seasonally adjusted. What does the non-seasonally adjusted data look like. See the chart below, which clearly shows extreme volatility of the non-adjusted data (the red dots). The 4-week MA gives an indication of the recurring pattern of seasonal change (note, for example, those regular January spikes).

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Because of the extreme volatility of the non-adjusted weekly data, we can add a 52-week moving average to give a better sense of the secular trends. The chart below also has a linear regression through the data. We can see that this metric continues to fall below the long-term trend stretching back to 1968.

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Annual Comparisons

Here is a calendar-year overlay since 2009 using the 4-week moving average. The purpose is to compare the annual slopes since the peak in the spring of 2009. The latest data point is off its post-recession low set in early November of last year.

For an analysis of unemployment claims as a percent of the labor force, see my recent commentary What Do Weekly Unemployment Claims Tell us About Recession Risk? Here is a snapshot from that analysis.

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For a broader view of unemployment, see the latest update in my monthly series Unemployment and the Market Since 1948.

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