Weekly claims dip, put grim December payrolls in rear-view

Initial jobless claims 326,000; CPI up 0.3% in December
Initial jobless claims 326,000; CPI up 0.3% in December

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell for a second week last week, suggesting a sharp slowdown in job growth in December was likely to be temporary.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 2,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to fall to 328,000 in the week ended Jan. 11.

The four-week moving average for new claims fell 13,500 to 335,000. A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated and there was nothing unusual in the state level data.

Job growth slowed sharply in December, with employers adding only 74,000 new jobs to their payrolls. Nonfarm payrolls had increased 241,000 in November and the step-back last month was blamed on cold weather.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid increased 174,000 to 3.03 million in the week ended Jan. 4, the highest since July.

A total of 4.70 million people were receiving benefits under all programs in the week ended Dec. 28. Benefits for about 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans expired that week.

Prices tame

In a separate report, U.S. consumer prices recorded their largest increase in six months in December as gasoline prices rebounded, but there was little to suggest a broader pick-up in prices with underlying inflation muted.

The Labor Department said Thursday its Consumer Price Index increased 0.3 percent after being flat in November. In the 12 months before December, consumer prices accelerated 1.5 percent after advancing 1.2 percent in November. The increases were in line with economists' expectations.

Stripping out the volatile energy and food components, the so-called core CPI rose only 0.1 percent, slowing from a 0.2 percent gain in November.

That left its increase over the past 12 months at 1.7 percent, where it has now been for four consecutive months. The Fed targets 2 percent inflation, although it tracks a gauge that tends to run a bit below CPI.

--By Reuters