Drop in initial claims for unemployment supports odds that economy will add 200,000 jobs or more in March

03/15/2012 2:50 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

Modestly better news from this morning’s report on initial claims for unemployment is enough to increase expectations for strengthening U.S. economic growth. Initial claims fell from 365,000 for the week ended on March 3 to 351,000 for the week ended March 10. That was the lowest number for initial claims since March 2008. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had projected that initial claims would drop to 355,000. (The initial claims number for the week ended March 3 was revised upward from 362,000.)

Continuing claims for unemployment fell to 3.343 million for the week ended March 3 from 3.416 million for the week ended February 25.

So what’s not to like about these numbers? They are consistent with net monthly gains in new jobs of 200,000 or more.

If you’re inclined to look for bad news, you might worry about the stagnation in the four-week moving average. Economists follow this number rather than the week-to-week reports because it smoothes out some of the meaningless volatility in the weekly number. The four-week moving has declined with year from 382,500 for the week ended January 7 to 355,000 in this week’s survey. But it has been stuck at that level for three weeks now. Nothing to worry about yet—but worth watching for a sign that an improving jobs picture has stalled at current rates of growth.

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