Most of today's US statistics met or exceeded predictions with those from the housing market the lone exception.
Fourth quarter non-farm productivity rose 6.9% as firms added work but not workers. This was an improvement on the preliminary release of 6.2% and the survey prediction for a rise of 6.3%. Unit labor costs, a sort of mirror image of productivity, fell 5.9% in the quarter, better than the initial -4.4% reading and also the -4.5% survey prediction. While the strong productivity gain reflects growing business for many firms it underlines the reluctance of most firms to hire even if their business is expanding.
Initial jobless claims for the week of February 27th dropped 29,000 to 469,000. The previous week's total was revised slightly higher to 498,000 from 496,000. The four week moving average fell slightly to 470,800 from 474,300 but remains well above the low of 440,800 from the second week of January.
Continuing claims in the February 20th week also fell to 4.5 million considerably better than the 4.6 predicted. The prior week was revised higher to 4.634 million from 4.617 million.
In the week of February 12th, the most recent with complete figures on long term unemployment, extended claims dropped to 178,500 from 188,600 and emergency claims rose to 5.6876 million from 5.4799 million. The total number of folks receiving unemployment benefits (continuing claims, extended claims and emergency claims) in the week of February 12 was 10.5001 million, up from 10.2786 the previous week. The largest number of unemployment recipients so far has been in the last week of January when 10.5669 million people were receiving some type of government unemployment assistance.
Factory orders, specifically new orders for manufactured goods, rose 1.7% in January, a bit less than the survey prediction of 1.8%. December's reading was revised 50% higher to 1.5% from 1.0%. This is the fifth positive month in a row and the ninth out of the last ten. The yearly gain was 9.5% but the total value of orders is still 6.6% below the five year average.
Pending home sales sank 7.6% in January; a rise of 1.0% had been predicted by economists. The year over year result gained 8.8%, down from 9.2% in December. This series logs the number of home sales under contract but not yet closed. The majority of pending sales become existing sales as the contract is completed. As all home sales go to contract first this number is used to gauge actual home sales two or three months in the future.