Jobless Claims Bounce Back Up

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- More Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the first week of the year than economists expected.

The Labor Department's weekly read on initial jobless claims rose by 24,000 to 399,000. The latest report was a disappointment given that claims had been coming in more comfortably below the 400,000 mark in recent weeks. According to a poll by Thomson Reuters, analysts were looking for 375,000. The prior week's figure was upwardly revised to 375,000 from 372,000.

Hope was building that the recovery in the U.S. jobs market might pick up pace and that claims would continue to decline.

"We are pretty confident that the underlying trend in claims is now declining again, as fears of a consumer meltdown have faded since the fall, but anything can happen in any given week," wrote Ian Sheperdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, before Thursday's report. "By the end of the first quarter, though, we expect to see the trend established below 350,000."

The recent read in claims opens up the question of whether improvements seen recently are due to seasonal factors, such as temporary improvement in the jobs market around the holiday season.

However, Paul Dales, U.S. economist with Capital Economics said that one shouldn't read too much into the rebound in claims. "There are always problems in seasonally adjusting the weekly data around the turn of the year," he said. "As it stands at the moment, the trend in claims remains downwards."

"We'll dismiss claims as part of the seasonal volatility, but do ponder if we're seeing layoffs post-holiday hiring," wrote David Ader, strategist with CRT Capital, in response to the government's report.

-- Written by Chao Deng in New York.

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