Import, Export Prices Jump; Jobless Claims Also Climb

U.S. import prices jumped a larger-than-expected 1.7% in March as petroleum prices rose sharply, Labor Department data showed. Jobless claims also rose more than predicted.

The rise in import prices, the largest increase since May 2006, was far steeper than the 0.8% rise forecast by Wall Street analysts.

Petroleum import prices rose 9 percent after rising 0.6% in February, the largest one-month increase since an 11.3% gain in April 2006.

The cost of non-petroleum imports showed a 0.3% gain after a 0.1% rise the previous month and the biggest increase in three months.

Export prices rose 0.7% in March as prices for agricultural and nonagricultural goods increased, compared with a forecast for a 0.4% gain.

Import prices are scrutinized by the Federal Reserve as a potential source of inflation in the production pipeline.

Capital goods import prices fell 0.1%, automotive vehicles and parts rose 0.1% while consumer goods excluding autos were 0.2% higher.

Jobless Claims Rise

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly jumped 19,000 last week, government data on Thursday showed in a report skewed by seasonal layoffs for school holidays.

Initial filings for state unemployment insurance aid for the week ended April 7 rose to the highest level in two months to a seasonally adjusted 342,000 from an upwardly revised
323,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said.

A Labor Department analyst said seasonal adjustments had difficulty accounting for the weeks in which U.S. schools close for "spring break." The closures come at different times in different states, and can affect employment in businesses as well as schools.

In the week ending March 31, claims had posted a larger-than-expected rise to an initially reported 321,000, and analysts on Wall Street had expected claims to slip to 320,000 in the latest week.

The four-week moving average of claims, which irons out weekly volatility to provide a better sense of underlying job-market trends, rose to 323,250 from 316,250 in the prior week.

The total number of unemployed still on the benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid rose by 38,000 to 2.53 million in the week ended March 31, the latest period for which these figures are available. It had been expected to come in at 2.50 million.