Weekly jobless claims mainly flat ahead of tomorrow's unemployment report

If anyone expected a big trend marker for tomorrow’s report on May unemployment from the initial jobless claims release this morning, they will be a little disappointed.  The overall number declined slightly while the previous week’s report was revised upward, making it look like a wash — but even that comes with a caveat:

In the week ending May 28, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 422,000, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 428,000. The 4-week moving average was 425,500, a decrease of 14,000 from the previous week’s revised average of 439,500.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.0 percent for the week ending May 21, unchanged from the prior week’s revised rate of 3.0 percent.

The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending May 21 was 3,711,000, a decrease of 1,000 from the preceding week’s revised level of 3,712,000. The 4-week moving average was 3,737,750, a decrease of 10,000 from the preceding week’s revised average of 3,747,750.

The big drop in the weekly average came from the elimination of a spike in the reports from mid-April, which shot up to over 470,000 new claims in one week.  The current four-week average better reflects the trend that started near the beginning of April, when the level of weekly claims suddenly moved significantly above the 380,000 level that characterized much of the first quarter.  The new level arrived even before the Commerce Department first estimated annualized Q1 GDP growth at 1.8%, which means that businesses saw the weakness for themselves and have begun to pull back on expansion.

The caveat?  Last week’s numbers were somewhat delayed, thanks to the Memorial Day holiday this week.  Next week’s report (for initial claims this week) may be artificially low, thanks to the holiday, but this report will almost certainly be revised upward, as Suitably Flip explains:

Once that 422,000 is revised (upward, inveitably) next week, this week will likely prove very close to flat*, which (while disheartening, given unemployment’s stubbornly elevated level), is probably as much as we dare hope for, in light of recent economic headlines.

* Or, quite possibly, the revised data could show an increase, not a decrease.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data, but noted that four states and territories, including Virginia and Oklahoma, had been estimated because of the Memorial Day holiday on Monday.

He also said Missouri had indicated that floods were affecting claims in the state, but provided insufficient information to quantify the impact.

Reuters notes that the decline is hardly a harbinger of good times to come, and previews the report due tomorrow morning:

New claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, but not enough to assuage fears the labor market recovery has taken a step back.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 422,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday, less than economists’ expectations for a fall to 415,000.

The claims report falls outside the survey period for the government’s closely watched data on nonfarm payrolls for May.

The government is expected to report on Friday that employers hired 150,000 last month, according to a Reuters survey, after increasing payrolls by 244,000 in April.

I’d guess that we’re looking at something significantly less than 150,000 new jobs in tomorrow’s report — especially since Reuters has a habit of making rosy economic predictions.  If I had to guess from this report and from the anemic (but not necessarily predictive) ADP report yesterday, I’d predict job growth of about 75,000 and a uptick in the unemployment rate to 9.2%.