New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits were unchanged last week, holding at the lowest level since the early days of the 2007-2009 recession and giving a fresh sign the battered labor market is healing.
PHIL ORLANDO, CHIEF EQUITY MARKET STRATEGIST, AT FEDERATED INVESTORS, IN NEW YORK
Claims data is fine...the trend is right there at about 350,000 and that puts us right smack in the middle of the 300,000 to 400,000 sweet spot that you need to see confirming the economy is on the mend from a job creation perspective. So we have been consistently under this 400,000 level on a sustainable basis since the end of October, so it's been a solid four months. So we can rule out the flash in the pan point of view that some of the bears have been using and suggest job creation on the economy is getting better.
JOE MANIMBO, SENIOR MARKET ANALYST, WESTERN UNION BUSINESS SOLUTIONS, WASHINGTON, D.C.
I think the data, that gives investors another reason to pile into riskier assets today, but I think it can be a broader source of support for the dollar. I think investors today have taken some encouraging news out of Europe as well as the U.S. to move away from safer investments. I think that overall jobless claims, they continue to paint an improving picture of the U.S. labor market, and if that trend were to persist that can reduce the specter of QE3 this year as well as perhaps move up the timing of a potential Fed rate hike. I think if I had to say right now, based on the way the economy continues to evolve, I think odds favor a pre-2014 rate hike by the Fed.
BRIAN LEVITT, ECONOMIST, OPPENHEIMERFUNDS INC., NEW YORK
It's hard not to be optimistic about this. We have seen progress in the labor market for the past several months. It's been a slow grind for workers. We would like to see more job growth at this point of the job cycle, but there have been 900,000 jobs created over the last five months.
It's all part of businesses with lean operations needing to hire workers. We should continue to be in the trend we have been on. We should stay north of the 200,000 range in job creations. The leading indicators on the economy look sound. Companies are willing to hire workers. I would see continued improvement. For investors, the focus should be on private sector job growth, not the unemployment rate which would remain elevated.
MARK GRANT, SOUTHWEST SECURITIES MANAGING DIRECTOR IN FORT LAUDERDALE
The claims indicate an economy that continues to bump along with neither a move to the upside or downside in futures. This is not going to move the market to one side or the other.
OMER ESINER, CHIEF MARKET ANALYST, COMMONWEALTH FOREIGN EXCHANGE, WASHINGTON
It's basically in line with expectations. I don't think it will do much to move markets this morning. If you look at the four-week moving average, it's still the lowest since March 2008. So it's broadly in line with recent U.S. data showing a gradually improving economic backdrop. If that continues to play out, we'll see a more positive impact on the dollar as it starts to influence monetary policy in the U.S. and highlights the bleaker outlook across the Atlantic.
JACOB OUBINA, SENIOR U.S. ECONOMIST, RBC CAPITAL MARKETS, NEW YORK
It was bang on expectations when you consider that the previous week was revised slightly higher. At this point I think it's still too early to tell whether the weather had an effect on claims this year or whether the number of jobless claims has actually shifted lower.
Normally, construction workers file unemployment claims at the beginning of December. What you typically see in March is construction workers coming back on into jobs.
Continuing claims are consistently heading lower but again I think that's more a function of exhaustion of benefits rather than any new improvement.
VIMOMBI NSHOM, ECONOMIST, IFR ECONOMICS, A UNIT OF THOMSON REUTERS
Revisions have made the initial claims count of 351,000 people looking into collecting unemployment benefits in the week ending February 18, the same as the amount of people looking into benefits the week prior. Jobless claims filed in the week ending February 11 were originally reported as 348k. The market expected a small correction to 354k after claims had fallen for three straight weeks -- movement that does not occur often.
For the past 16 weeks, first-time filers consistently posted beneath 400k, with just two irregular readings of 404k last November and 402k last month interrupting the pattern. Having adequately moved past that benchmark...claims will be pushed to push past another, lower barrier for 2012. That would exemplify continued momentum in the labor market as indications of layoffs try to crawl back to a level resembled during expansion in the business cycle, as opposed to these 300k-400k readings becoming the 'new normal.'
(Americas Economics and Markets Desk)