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Jobless claims decline, retail sales perk up

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By Chritopher S. Rugaber

WASHINGTON (AP) — New claims for jobless benefits fell last week in a sign that layoffs may be easing as the economy slowly recovers.

Meanwhile, retailers reported Thursday that sales rose in February by the largest amount since November 2007, a month before the recession began. Factory orders also rose in January, the Commerce Department said.

The reports provide fresh evidence that the economy is steadily growing. But it's not clear when that improvement will translate into new hiring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for unemployment insurance fell by 29,000 to a seasonally adjusted 469,000. That nearly matches Wall Street analysts' estimates of 470,000.

Still, last week's drop only partly reverses a sharp rise in claims in the previous two weeks.

The four-week average of claims, which smooths out volatility, fell by 3,500 to 470,750. Despite the drop, the average has risen by about 20,000 since the beginning of the year.

The stock market ticked up on the news. The Dow Jones industrial average rose by about 20 points in morning trading.

Initial claims are considered a gauge of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire new workers. But they have been volatile in recent weeks as last month's severe snowstorms in the Northeast have distorted the data.


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