WASHINGTON - More Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign the improvement in labor-market conditions may be stalling.
Jobless claims fell by 2,000 to 386,000 in the week ended April 14 from a revised 388,000 the prior period that was higher than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington.
The median forecast of 47 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a drop to 370,000.
Revisions to previous data have been larger than normal and the government is trying to determine the cause, a Labor Department spokesman said as the figures were released to the press.
The claims figures raise the possibility the payroll gains that have helped push unemployment down to a three-year low may cool, weighing on consumer spending. Federal Reserve officials, awaiting evidence of a more robust job market and economic growth, have said they’ll keep borrowing costs low through 2014.
“Progress in the labor market is not quite as strong as people had hoped, but we are still on a recovery track here,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Stock-index futures trimmed earlier gains after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in June was little changed at 1,378.5 at 8:49 a.m. in New York.
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 350,000 to 390,000. The Labor Department revised the previous week’s figure up from 380,000. After being revised up to 370,000 from an initial estimate of 360,000, the week before that was revised back down to 362,000, today’s figures showed.
States are revising the figures more than usual and as of now there is no explanation for the changes, the Labor Department spokesman said. The repeated revisions may make it more difficult to determine the actual trend in claims.
The Easter holiday may also be making it difficult for the government to adjust the data for seasonal variations, said Ian Shepherdson, who projected claims would rise to 390,000.
“Easter comes every year, but the six-week window in which the date moves causes havoc with the seasonals,” Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics Ltd. in Valhalla, N.Y., said in a note to clients. “The underlying trend, we think, is probably flat or slowly downwards, and it will reappear soon.”