12/10/2015

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose to a five-month high last week, but likely does not signal a deterioration in the labor market as the underlying trend remained consistent with tightening conditions.

Other data on Thursday showed cheaper crude oil and a strong dollar keeping imported inflation pressures subdued in November. The reports will probably do little to change views the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next Wednesday for the first time in nearly a decade.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 282,000 for the week ended Dec. 5, the highest level since early July, the Labor Department said.

Claims data tend to be volatile around this time of the year. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it strips out week-to-week volatility, rose only 1,500 to 270,750 last week.

Claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold, which is normally associated with healthy labor market conditions, for 40 straight weeks. This is the longest since the early 1970s.

As the labor market approaches full employment there is probably little room for further declines. The labor market remains resilient, despite slowing consumer spending and housing market activity.

Labor market tightness is expected to spur faster wage growth and gradually push inflation toward its target. The government reported last week that the economy added 211,000 jobs last month, keeping the unemployment rate at a 7-1/2-year low of 5.0 percent.

The claims report showed the number of people still

receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 82,000 to 2.24 million in the week ended Nov. 28. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 16,500 to 2.18 million.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

In a second report, the Labor Department said import prices dropped 0.4 percent last month after decreasing 0.3 percent in October. Import prices have declined in 15 of the last 17months.

In the 12 months through November, prices tumbled 9.4percent. Dollar strength and a sharp decline in oil prices have dampened inflation, leaving it running well below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target.

Last month, imported petroleum prices fell 2.5 percent after rising 0.4 percent in October. Further weakness is likely following a recent slump in oil prices to seven-year lows. Import prices excluding petroleum slipped 0.3 percent after falling 0.4 percent in October. The dollar has gained 18 percent against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since June 2014, making imports less expensive. In November, imported food prices fell 0.5 percent, declining for a third straight month. Prices for industrial supplies, excluding petroleum fell 1.0 percent after a similar drop in October. Prices for imported capital goods dipped 0.1 percent and prices for imported automobiles also fell by the same margin.

The report also showed export prices decreased 0.6 percent last month after slipping 0.2 percent in October. They were down 6.3 percent in the 12 months through November. 

By Lucia Mutikani - Reuters (Editing by Andrea Ricci)