US jobless claims rise, trade gap narrows

Updated: 2011-06-09 22:47


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WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment aid unexpectedly edged higher last week, stoking fears of a stalled economic recovery even as a separate report showed record US exports in April.

Initial claims for state jobless benefits increased 1,000 to 427,000, the Labor Department said. However, economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dropping to 415,000 from a previously reported count of 422,000.

US jobless claims rise, trade gap narrows

The rise kept first-time claims perched above the 400,000 mark for the ninth week in a row. Analysts normally associate a level below that with steady job growth.

"It's the same dismal trend continuing. It's not getting worse, but it's not getting better either," said Keith Hembre, chief economist at Nuveen Asset Management in Minneapolis.

Fueling concerns about job creation, the US government said on Friday the US unemployment rate ticked up to 9.1 percent in May while nonfarm employers added a paltry 54,000 workers to their payrolls.

Hembre said the unemployment rate could rise to 9.2 percent in the June report. That would add to US President Barack Obama's political woes heading into the 2012 race for the White House.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Tuesday acknowledged the economy had slowed but offered no hint the central bank was considering more stimulus to boost growth.

A Commerce Department report showed the US trade deficit narrowed unexpectedly in April, as US exports rose to a new record and imports from Japan tumbled more than 25 percent after its earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

The monthly trade gap totaled $43.7 billion, down 6.7 percent from a revised estimate of $46.8 billion in March which was originally reported as $48.2 billion.

The $3 billion drop in imports from Japan from March to April was the largest on record. US auto and auto parts imports from Japan and other suppliers fell $2.8 billion, partly reflecting supply chain disruptions in the aftermath of the triple disaster.

Once those problems are worked through, many analysts expect the trade gap to widen again.

"Right now (the trade report) looks like it's going to be positive for Q2 GDP, but by the end of June the bounce back will be obvious I think," said Thomas Simons, money market economist for Jefferies & Co in New York.

"I don't think we can draw any long-term inferences from this data other than it's apparent that the Japanese supply chain disruptions are real," he added.

US stock index futures added to gains after the data, while Treasury bond prices pared gains and the dollar rose against the euro.


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