Jobless claims, leading indicators boost optimism on the economy

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Stores in the Chicago Loop are seeking new employees, which indicates continued strength in the job market. / megan k. rauch / MEDILL

By Megan Rauch

A gauge of the number of people joining the ranks of the unemployed fell to the lowest level since 2000, while the index of leading economic indicators rose more than expected, according to two reports Thursday that painted a reassuring picture of the economy.

Initial jobless claims for the week ended Oct. 18 rose by a smaller-than-expected 17,000 to 283,000, while the closely watched and less volatile four-week moving average fell to 281,000, the lowest level since May 6, 2000.

Economists had expected jobless claims of 285,000 in the most recent week. A decrease in jobless claims suggests more employers are holding onto workers.

“Looking through some of the weekly ups and downs, the trend in claims has clearly improved in recent months,” Daniel Silver, a J.P.Morgan economist, wrote in a research note. He added that the Columbus Day holiday on Oct. 13 may have contributed to recent volatility in initial claims.

Signaling more good news for the economy, the Index of Leading Economic Indicators rose 0.8 percent in September after a flat reading in August, originally reported as a 0.2 percent rise. Economists had expected the index to rise 0.6 percent, according to Reuters.

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Store managers at a shop near the Clark and Adams St. intersection in Chicago seek new workers, indicating signs of a revitalizing economy. / megan k. rauch / MEDILL

The Conference Board, which publishes the index, said the rise indicates “moderate growth in the short term.”

“The financial markets are reflecting turmoil and unease, but the data on the leading indicators continue to suggest moderate growth in the short-term,” said Ken Goldstein, chief economist for The Conference Board. “Meanwhile, the weak advances in the housing market remain a bigger risk to the outlook than short-term financial gyrations.” Nine of the ten economic indicators used in compiling the index showed growth for September. The interest rate spread had the most positive contribution.

The sole negative indicator for the index was average consumer expectations for business conditions.