Initial jobless claims jump 51,000

The measure of weekly jobless claims returned to the narrow and high range seen throughout 2010 this week, going up 51,000 to 454,000.  Florida and Nevada contributed the most to the rise, with over 6,000 new claims in Florida alone.  The four-week average spiked upward by more than 15,000:

In the week ending Jan. 22, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 454,000, an increase of 51,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 403,000. The 4-week moving average was 428,750, an increase of 15,750 from the previous week’s revised average of 413,000.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.2 percent for the week ending Jan. 15, an increase of 0.1 percentage point from the prior week’s unrevised rate of 3.1 percent.

The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending Jan. 15 was 3,991,000, an increase of 94,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3,897,000. The 4-week moving average was 3,975,500, a decrease of 39,750 from the preceding week’s revised average of 4,015,250.

Reuters almost broke out the “U” word, instead opting for its usual fallback variant:

New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week as harsh weather conditions in some parts of the country kept workers at home and caused a backlog in the processing of claims, a government report showed on Thursday. …

Economists polled by Reuters had expected claims to be little changed at 405,000.

Well, maybe.  I’m not aware of “harsh weather” earlier this month in Florida, however.  The weather has been more or less consistent since the big snowfalls of December, and the bump now would have come much earlier than last week if those storms suppressed claims.  The most likely explanation is some downsizing after the Christmas retail season and recalculation by employers after seeing little optimism in the short-term economic outlook.

The initial market reaction shows very mild surprise at the results:

S&P 500 futures lost 2.2 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures shed 7 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures dipped 1 point.

It looks as though the market anticipated the news better than Reuters’ analysts did.  That’s not unexpected, either.