Vang SJC

For employed Americans, the probability of being fired hasn’t been this low in almost 15 years.

An average 282,250 workers a week applied for jobless benefits in the month ended April 4, the fewest since June 2000, according to Labor Department data issued Thursday in Washington. Another report showed consumer confidence rose last week to an almost eight-year high as Americans said it was a good time to shop.

“Consumers are confident, and confident consumers tend to spend more,” said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC in New York. “Things are improving.”

Fewer dismissals indicate companies are optimistic demand will strengthen after the world’s largest economy weakened in the first quarter under the strain of harsh winter weather, a strengthening dollar and tepid global growth. It also signals employment is likely to rebound after a report last week showed payrolls rose in March at the slowest pace in more than a year.

Low jobless claims are “almost like a precondition for a steady trend in the employment numbers,” said Dutta. “We’re probably going to get some improvement in the employment data in April.”

Stocks rose as energy companies gained amid a rebound in crude, offsetting quarterly results from Alcoa Inc. and Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. that disappointed investors. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 0.4 percent to 2,091.18 at the close in New York.

Consumer Confidence

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index climbed to 47.9 in the period ended April 5, the highest since May 2007, other figures showed Thursday. A measure of buying conditions was the strongest since November 2006, while attitudes about the economy were the brightest in nine weeks.

Sentiment improved in six of seven income brackets, led by households making $100,000 or more, which reported confidence soaring to the second-highest level since August 2007. Those making $25,000 to $40,000 were the only group to experience a drop in sentiment.

On a regional basis, confidence improved in all areas except the Midwest. In the South, sentiment was the strongest since September 2007.

The Labor Department’s report on unemployment benefits also showed applications over the latest week climbed by 14,000 to 281,000. The median forecast of 45 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 283,000. Estimates ranged from 275,000 to 325,000.

Claims Revision

The prior week’s reading was revised to 267,000, matching the lowest since April 2000, from an initially reported 268,000.

The four-week average for claims is a less volatile measure than the weekly figures and is therefore a better representation of the underlying trend.

No states were estimated last week and there was nothing unusual in the data, a Labor Department spokesman said as the report was released to the press.

The number of people remaining on jobless-benefit rolls declined by 23,000 to 2.3 million in the week ended March 28, the fewest since December 2000. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

Claims since the beginning of March have held below the 300,000 level that economists say is consistent with an improving labor market.

Figures earlier this week showed job openings climbed to a 14-year high of 5.1 million in February.

Hiring Slowdown

Progress on filling those positions was interrupted last month as employers added 126,000 workers, the smallest gain since December 2013. The weaker-than-projected advance ended a 12-month streak of increases of 200,000 or more.

“Although payroll growth decelerated sharply in March, the claims data of the past few weeks suggests that this was a temporary setback,” Tom Simons, an economist at Jefferies LLC in New York, said in a research note. “We expect that payrolls will bounce back in April.”

Inclement weather probably was at least partly to blame for the slowdown, indicating the job market is set to rebound as temperatures warm. The economy has been held back by slower growth abroad, a plunge in energy prices and the lingering effects of supply chain disruptions from a West Coast port labor dispute earlier this year.

Ford Motor Co. is among companies that are upbeat about the economy’s prospects.

Regaining Momentum

“The first quarter saw a string of mixed economic data,” Emily Kolinski Morris, chief economist at the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker, said on an Apr. 1 sales and revenue call. “We expect a firming labor market and still low fuel prices and interest rates to support renewed momentum in economic activity as spring takes hold.”

Automobile sales already are signaling a pickup in consumer purchases that weakened at the start of 2015. Cars and light trucks sold at a 17.1 million annualized rate in March, matching the strongest pace since August, figures from Ward’s Automotive Group show.

Source: Bloomberg

Linh Nhan