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Jobless Claims Show Signs of Weakness (Finally!)

Thursday, March 9th, 2023

Wait, wait — can we call Mr Powell back? No sooner does the Fed Chair show up on Capitol Hill for two days to decry hotter-than-expected economic metrics like the labor market than we see our first cooling print on Weekly Jobless Claims this morning. Initial Jobless Claims raced ahead to 211K last week from an unrevised 190K the previous week — the highest read we’ve seen so far in 2023.

In fact, last week’s new jobless claims totals is only the second time all year we’ve been above 200K, which itself is a sign of a rather robust workforce. But the trajectory with which today’s number occurs — the fastest growth in new jobless claims since at least spring/early summer of last year — is what might be a sign that we’re on our way to a new plateau in the labor market.

Continuing Claims also “spiked” week over week (and one week in arrears from initial claims) to 1.718 million from a downwardly revised 1.649 million the previous week. The matches exactly the cycle high we saw back in the second full week of December last year, and brought the sharpest upswing since November 2022. It’s always a good idea to take a deep breath after one set of numbers and not jump to conclusions… but these numbers, should they hold, would speak to our long-awaited expected erosion in U.S. employment.

We now look toward tomorrow morning’s Employment Situation report (nonfarm payrolls and Unemployment Rate) somewhat in limbo, as yesterday’s ADP ADP private-sector numbers exceeded expectations almost as much as jobless claims this morning came up short. So monthly tallies from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will be a tiebreaker of sorts. Expectations are currently for 225K new jobs having been created last month, well off the 517K pace last reported.

In fact, we might expect a notable downward revision to that 517K figure, though we really need to wait and see. Also, even though ADP and BLS numbers tend to align over time, they’re often at odds at the moment reported. Then again, they might both point the same direction — more job gains rather than fewer — and its the weekly claims that are the outliers. In any case, it should be interesting. Stay tuned!

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