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Jobless Claims Less Than Expected After 2-Year High, Gold Prices Rise

Initial jobless claims in the US fell 18,000 to 234,000 for the week ended December 14, according to the Labor Department’s report on Thursday. Claims had shot up to a two-year high the previous week, with the data possibly skewed by Thanksgiving coming earlier in the year than usual. Claims are still higher than predicted.

Key Takeaways

  • Jobless claims fell from 252,000 to 234,000 vs. 225,000 expected, down from the highest point seen since September 2017.
  • The model the government uses to measure claims may not have accounted for Thanksgiving falling earlier than usual, impacting the job market data.
  • While claims are typically volatile around the holiday season, the broader trend continues to indicate a healthy labor market.

Claims fell 18,000 last week after rising 49,000 the week before. The end of Thanksgiving and the seasonal volatility associated with the Christmas holidays in late December may contribute a level of volatility with short-term staff being hired or let go as necessary to meet demand. Claims are still above expectations for last week. No states were estimated in the most recent report.

The four-week average of claims, which is less volatile than the short-term measure, rose 1,500 to 225,500 last week. The number of claims continuing after an initial week of aid rose 51,000 to 1.72 million for the week ended December 7, and the monthly average of these claims rose 6,250 to 1.68 million.

Overall, the labor market appears to be in good health. Hiring has slowed considerably in 2019, although November saw a 10-month high in new jobs measured at 266,000. The ongoing trade war with China does not appear to have significantly impacted layoffs, with companies reluctant to cut staff during an ongoing shortage of skilled workers. While manufacturing has suffered along with business investment, most sectors have continued to show robust activity. The unemployment rate remains near historic lows at 3.5%.

The ongoing strength in the labor market market is crucial to facilitating healthy consumer spending which accounts for two-thirds of the entire US economy. The Federal Reserve anticipates moderate growth despite worsening economic conditions seen worldwide, and has indicated a pause on interest rate cuts after implementing three throughout the year. The trade war, one of the main adversaries of US economic expansion in the last year or so, may be coming to a close with the US and China tentatively agreeing to a minor deal which may lead to a de-escalation in tensions.

Market Reaction

Gold prices have seen little reaction to the news, trading slightly higher on the day. Spot gold last traded at $1,476.68/oz, up 0.28% with a high of $1,478.14/oz and a low of $1,473.45. Gold prices may have been spurred on by the underestimated jobless claims along with a weak report on manufacturing from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve.