"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

First Time Jobless Claims

First up for today's economic data is First Time Jobless Claims.  This particular report is a look at, well, exactly what it sounds like.  How many people filed for unemployment insurance for the first time in a given week.  The figures come in two flavors:  seasonally adjusted (which attempts to make allowances for seasonality[1]) and unadjusted (the actual raw number of claimants).  Also, bear in mind that on the release date we get an advance figure - essentially a preliminary estimate that is adjusted to a final result on the following week[2].  The report also provides a total number of people receiving unemployment insurance in all programs for a given week (although that figure is on a two week delay).
Last week, we saw a total of 402,000 new (seasonally adjusted) claims for the week ending 10/29.  This week, the Econoday-surveyed analysts are feeling just very mildly optimistic, and are expecting first time claims to fall to only 400,000 new claimants.
For the actual data, we turn to the US Department of labor, and the (recently renamed) Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report.  As anticipated, we see that the seasonally adjusted initial claims for the week ending 10/22 have been revised upwards to 406,000.  Meanwhile, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted  initial claims for the week ending 10/29 came in at 397,000 - beating expectations (although it remains to be seen whether expectations will still be beaten when they get revised on the 10th).
The advance figure for actual initial claims came in at 366,923, a decline of 10,433 from 10/22, while the total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending 10/15 came in at 6,781,690 (an increase of 103,117 from the previous week).
So we beat expectations, and beat it on a fairly important and market-moving economic measure.  Combine this with the euphoria in the markets about the possibility that the Greek government will collapse and/or the possibility that Greece will be thrown out of the EU, and we may be looking at a good day in the markets.
[1]  Barron's Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms, Seventh Edition, defines "seasonality" as:  variations in business or economic activity that recur with regularity as the result of changes in climate, holidays, and vacations.  The retail toy business, with its steep sales buildup between Thanksgiving and Christmas and pronounced dropoff thereafter, is an example of seasonality in a dramatic form, though nearly all businesses have some degree of seasonal variation.  It is often necessary to make allowances for seasonality when interpreting or projecting financial or economic data[3], a process economists call seasonal adjustment.
[2]  The sheer weight of history over the past few years indicates that it will be adjusted upwards, calling into question why everyone gets excited about the advance figures in the first place...
[3]  No, I don't know what's wrong with looking at the actual numbers either.

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