In what might be an early sign of loosening in the labor market, initial jobless claims rose 11,000 in the January 6 week to a higher-than-expected 261,000. The gain is widespread and not centered in Puerto Rico where claims, at 1,778, are down about 500 in the latest week and back to pre-hurricane levels. Only one state, Maine, was estimated in the week. The 4-week average, at 250,750, is up a steep 9,000 in the week and is roughly 15,000 above the month-ago trend which offers an early hint of trouble for the January employment report.
In data for the last week of December, continuing claims showed improvement, down 35,000 to 1.867 million which is a new 44-year low. The unemployment rate for insured workers is down 1 tenth to 1.3 percent.
Initial claims, aside from hurricane distortions in September and October, were remarkably steady and favorable throughout last year which makes the gain in the first week of this year stand out. Next week's initial claims data will be very closely watched and will track the sample week of the January employment report.