By Ryan Barnes
Release Date: Weekly; Thursdays, prior to market open
Release Time: 8:30am Eastern Standard Time
Coverage Previous week (cutoff date is previous Saturday)
Released By: U.S. Department of Labor
Latest Release: http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/eta/main.htm


Background
The Jobless Claims Report is a weekly release that shows the number of first-time (initial) filings for state jobless claims nationwide. The data is seasonally adjusted, as certain times of the year are known for above-average hiring for temporary work (harvesting, holidays).

Due to the short sample period, week-to-week results can be volatile, so reported results are most often headlined as a four-week moving average, so that each week's release is the average of the four prior jobless claims reports. The release will show which states have had the biggest changes in claims from the previous week; the revised edition shows up about a week later, at which time a full breakdown by state and U.S. territory is available.

Also released with this report are the relatively minor data points of the insured unemployment rate and the total unemployed persons. These are not seen as valuable indicators because the total unemployed figure tends to stay relatively constant week to week. (To learn more, read Surveying The Employment Report.)

What it Means for Investors
New jobless claims for the week reflect an up-to-the-minute account of who is leaving work unexpectedly, reflecting the "run rate" of the economy's health with little lag time. The Jobless Claims Report gets a lot of press due to its simplicity and the theory that the healthier the job market, the healthier the economy: more people working means more disposable income, which leads to higher personal consumption and gross domestic product (GDP).

The fact that jobless claims are released weekly is both a blessing and a curse for investors; sometimes the markets will take a mid-month jobless claims report and react strongly to it, particularly if it shows a difference from the cumulative evidence of other recent indicators. For instance, if other indicators are showing a weakening economy, a surprise drop in jobless claims could slow down equity sellers and could actually lift stocks, even if only because there isn't any other more recent data to chew on.

A favorable Jobless Claims Report can also get lost in the shuffle of a busy news day, and hardly be noticed by Wall Street at all. The biggest factor week to week is how unsure investors are about the future direction of the economy.




Most economists agree that a sustained change (as shown in the moving averages) of 30,000 claims or more is the benchmark for real job growth or job loss in the economy. Anything less is deemed statistically insignificant by most market analysts.


Strengths:
  • Weekly reporting provides for timely, almost real-time snapshots.
  • As a tightly-presented release, investors can easily pick up the raw release and quickly apply the information to market decisions.
  • Initial claims are provided gross and net of seasonal adjustments, and give a breakdown for every state's individual results.
  • Some states' figures are shown along with a comment from that state's reporting agency regarding specific industries in which noteworthy activity is happening, such as "fewer layoffs in the industrial machinery industry".
Weaknesses:
  • Summer and other seasonal employment tends to skew the results.
  • Highly volatile - revisions to advance report can be very big on a percentage basis
  • Jobless claims in isolation tell little about the overall state of the economy.
  • No industry breakdowns are provided, just the national figure.


Next: Economic Indicators: Money Supply »


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