December 11, 2019

Jobless Claims Decline, While Home Sales Rise

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 23,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 340,000, a level consistent with firm job growth.

And sales of new homes rose in April to the second-highest level since summer 2008, while the median price for a new home hit a high.

The Labor Department said on Thursday that the less volatile four-week average of jobless claims declined just 500 to 339,500. That is close to the five-year low of 338,000 reached in the first week of May. The four-week average is 9 percent lower than last November.

“The underlying story in jobless claims continues to be one of gradual improvement,” Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas, wrote in a research report.

Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. The decline in claims has coincided with steady job growth over the last six months. Since last November, employers have added an average 208,000 jobs a month. That is up from just 138,000 jobs a month in the previous six months.

Still, much of the improvement has come from fewer layoffs, not robust hiring. Employers laid off just 1.7 million workers in March, only slightly above the 12-year low reached in January. Overall hiring remains far below levels before the recession.

More than 4.7 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits the week that ended May 4, down 23 percent from nearly 6.2 million a year earlier.

The United States still has 2.6 million fewer jobs than when the recession began in December 2007. The unemployment rate has fallen to a four-year low of 7.5 percent, from 10 percent in October 2009. Some of the decline is a result of many people giving up looking for work. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are searching for a job.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that sales of new homes rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 454,000 in April. That was up 2.3 percent from March and slightly below 458,000 in January.

January and April had the fastest sales since July 2008.

The median price of a home sold in April was $271,600, the highest level on government records dating from 1993. The April price was 8.3 percent higher than in March and 13.1 percent higher than a year earlier.

Steady job creation and mortgage rates near record lows are encouraging more Americans to buy homes.

With the April increase, sales are now 29 percent higher than a year ago, but they are still below the 700,000 economists consider healthy.

The strength in April was led by a 10.8 percent increase in sales in the West. Sales in the South were up 3 percent, but sales fell 16.7 percent in the Northeast and 4.8 percent in the Midwest.

Sales of previously owned homes rose in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million, the highest level in three and a half years.

Greater demand, along with fewer homes for sale, is also increasing prices in most markets and encouraging more construction.

Applications for permits to build homes rose in April to the highest level in nearly five years. While construction of new homes and apartments slipped a bit in April, the decline occurred a month after construction topped one million for the first time since June 2008.

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Wall Street Shares End Flat

Stocks were steady on Thursday as renewed worries about Europe overshadowed an encouraging report on jobs in the United States.

Germany’s economy, the largest in Europe, shrank more than expected late last year, and the slowdown deepened the region’s ongoing recession. The report was a troubling sign for the United States because sales to Europe have been a boon for American companies.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 9.52 points to close at 13,973.39.

After a strong start, the stock market has been steady over the last week with few major events to sway investors. That calm could disappear soon, Doug Cote, the chief market strategist at ING Investment Management, said Thursday.

With recessions in Europe and Japan and weak growth in the United States, he is bracing for some turbulence. “Everybody is too complacent,” Mr. Cote said.

Cisco Systems, the world’s largest maker of computer networking equipment, reported earnings late Wednesday that surpassed Wall Street’s expectations, but the company predicted sales growth that was weaker than previous estimates and its stock fell 15 cents, or 1 percent, to $20.99 a share.

The Standard Poor’s 500-stock index edged up 1.05 points to 1,521.38. The Nasdaq composite index rose 1.78 points to 3,198.66.

The S. P. 500 index has climbed 1.6 percent this month and has gained 6.7 percent for the year.

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell to 341,000 last week, the lowest level in three weeks, according to the Labor Department. Besides a few weeks last month that were affected by seasonal trends, that is the lowest level in nearly five years.

Among deals announced Thursday, American Airlines and US Airways agreed to merge, creating the country’s largest airline. Warren E. Buffett and 3G Capital, a private equity firm, also plan to buy the food maker H. J. Heinz for $23 billion. US Airways sank 67 cents to $13.99, while H. J. Heinz rose $12.02 to $72.50.

Constellation Brands was up 37 percent, the biggest gain in the S. P. 500, after reaching a deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev. InBev agreed to sell a brewery in Mexico and rights for Corona and Modelo beer in the United States to Constellation for $2.9 billion. Constellation Brands gained $11.87 to $43.75 a share.

In the market for United States Treasury debt, the yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 1.99 percent, down from 2.03 percent late Wednesday.

The 10-year Treasury yield, used to set a variety of borrowing rates, began the year around 1.70 percent and has climbed steadily since then. As worries about a recession ease, traders have shifted money out of the Treasury market, driving yields up.

Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain, slumped 10 percent after trimming its forecasts for sales and earnings this year as a result of its plans to open more stores and put more lower-priced goods on its shelves. Whole Foods lost $9.40 to $87.50.

General Motors fell 3 percent after saying it made money in North America and Asia and nearly doubled last year’s fourth-quarter profit.

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