684,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, far fewer than expected and, on a quick scan, the first sub-700,000 print of the pandemic era.
The market was looking for 730,000. The range, from more than three-dozen economists, was 700,000 to 790,000.
“Milestone” might be too strong, but I’ll use it anyway (figure below). At the very least, this seems encouraging. The pre-pandemic record, set decades ago, was 695,000. A year after the pandemic lockdowns, the US is finally below that red line.
The four-week moving average fell to 736,000.
This comes as market participants, economists and analysts look ahead to what’s expected to be a kind of “grand” reopening accompanied by an economic renaissance in the US. Vaccine rollout has accelerated under the Biden administration. Some, including the President, say July Fourth celebrations could be a semblance of “normal” this year.
Perhaps it’s all wishful thinking, but with stimulus in the bank (figuratively and literally), any further steps down the road to reopening the services sector are expected to be met with voracious consumption. And cabin fever likely means Americans will be predisposed to activities conducive to merriment as the weather warms. That bodes well for demand and, in turn, for hiring.
Continuing claims in the week through March 13 were 3.87 million. That too was better than consensus, which expected 4 million.
Initial Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims fell 42,509, while ongoing PUA and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation claims were 7,735,491 and 5,551,215, respectively, for the week of March 6.
The pandemic has seen its share of false dawns, and with new variants running around, it would be naive to express anything like overconfidence.
Still, these are “good” numbers. With an obligatory asterisk to account for the fact that “good” is always a relative term these days.