Aug. 2, 2012 at 8:47 AM ET
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose less than expected in the latest week, but the data remains almost inscrutable because of seasonal auto plant shutdown distortions.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that seasonally adjusted jobless claims rose 8,000 to 365,000, versus economists' expectations that it would rise to 370,000. The four-week moving average slid by 2,750 to 365,500, lending a positive note to the data. The four-week moving average is considered a more accurate gauge of labor market trends because it smooths out rough spots in the data.
Temporary plant shutdowns by automakers for annual retooling cause wide swings in claims data in July, which makes it difficult to get a clear picture of the labor market's health.
The model used by the government to smooth the numbers for typical seasonal patterns has trouble anticipating the timing of the temporary closures and in addition, some automakers kept production lines running in July.
A Labor Department official said last week was the last where the seasonal expectation was shaped by seasonal layoffs in the auto manufacturing sector.
The data has no bearing on July's employment report as it falls outside the survey period.
The government is expected to report on Friday that employers added 100,000 new workers to their payrolls last month, according to a Reuters survey, up from 80,000 in June.
Job growth averaged 75,000 per month in the second quarter, a sharp deceleration from the average monthly increase of 226,000 in the first three months of the year.
An uncertain fiscal policy path and ongoing debt problems in Europe have hurt demand and left businesses cautious about hiring new workers.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve signaled it was willing to ease monetary policy further, noting that economic activity had slowed in the first half of the year. Many economists expect the U.S. central bank to launch a third round of bond buying, also known as quantitative easing, in September.
Related story: Fed plan as economy slows -- watch and wait
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 19,000 to 3.3 million in the week ended July 21.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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