World Bulletin / News Desk
The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits edged higher last week although a trend reading fell close to a four-year low, pointing to healing in the still-struggling labor market.
Other data on Thursday showed groundbreaking on new U.S. homes fell in July in a reminder of the housing market's weakness despite some recent signs of recovery.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 366,000, the Labor Department said. That was in line with economists' forecasts in a Reuters poll.
Claims data, which swung wildly in July due to shifts in seasonal auto plant shutdowns, are now giving a clearer picture of modest improvement in the labor market.
The data reinforces the view that economic growth could pick up in the second half of the year. But even then, the recovery is seen to be lackluster and perhaps in need of more support from the Federal Reserve.
"Overall, they (the data) are consistent with our outlook that growth will be a little bit better in the U.S. but not as upbeat as some people think," said Brian Kim, a currency strategist at RBS Securities inStamford, Connecticut.
"We're still looking at possible Fed action in September and these numbers don't really alter that view."
The four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labor market trends, dropped 5,500 to 363,750. That was the lowest since March - and the second lowest since April 2008.
U.S. nonfarm payrolls increased 163,000 in July after three months of gains below 100,000, although the unemployment rate ticked higher to 8.3 percent.
The pickup in hiring last month, along with gains in retail sales and manufacturing output, has dampened expectations the Fed could announce at its next meeting a plan to stimulate the economy with a third round of bond purchases. Officials at the Fed next review policy on Sept. 12-13.
U.S. stock index futures held onto earlier gains following the data.
The U.S. economy still faces a number of threats, including the looming possibility the government will raise taxes and cut spending next year. That is already hurting business sentiment.
Europe's festering debt crisis also menaces and is weighing on the global economy. China's Commerce Ministry said on Thursday the outlook for its exports has darkened.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc forecast full-year earnings that could fall short of Wall Street expectations as growth in international markets slows, even as its U.S. discount stores saw improved sales in a tepid U.S. economy.
Another report due on Thursday is expected to show factory activity contracted in the mid-Atlantic region for the fourth straight month in August.
That would be the second regional manufacturing report to show contraction during the month. On Wednesday, the New York Federal Reserve bank said factory activity slipped this month for the first time since October 2011.
In another somewhat downbeat sign, the Commerce Department said housing starts dropped 1.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 746,000 units.
The reading was below the median forecast in a Reuters poll of a 757,000-unit rate.
The government also revised lower its estimates for starts in recent months. But economists said the readings, which are prone to significant revisions, still pointed to healing in the housing market.
"This is nothing but normal statistical noise," said Stephen Stanley, an economist at Pierpont Securities in Stamford, Connecticut.
The U.S. housing market, which fell into a deep rut six years ago, has been a relative bright spot in the economy this year.
Home prices have shown signs of stabilizing and many economists think housing construction will give a small boost to the economy this year.
There were also some positive signals in Thursday's report. New permits for building homes rose 6.8 percent in July to a 812,000 unit pace, the highest rate since August 2008.
But outside of housing, the broader economy has looked wobbly this year, which could hold back gains in home building.
Although the likely consumer is Europe, which would require pipelines to pass through Turkey, companies may decide instead to export gas from the Levant basin to Jordan, Egypt or the Asian continent.
The ambassadors did agree to add more people and entities to the EU's asset freeze list, using expanded criteria including Russian companies that help to undermine Ukraine's sovereignty
Washington has pressured companies and governments not to buy crude from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), but it has stopped short of banning U.S. firms from buying it outright.
The whistleblower's email said GSK used its own employees and Syrian distributor Maatouk Group to make illicit payments.
The hackers broke into a database storing details of people who had registered for ECB conferences, visits and other events, the bank said.
Russia generated $356 billion from oil, gas exports last year, data shows.
While stopping far short of targeting physical energy supplies, EU ministers for the first time this week raised the idea of restricting Russian access to oil and gas technology.
They were among nine organisations and three people added to the EU's Syria sanctions list, published in the bloc's Official Journal
Land reform remains a sensitive issue in South Africa, where 20 years after the end of apartheid the white minority still holds around 87 percent of commercial farm land.
Talks are reportedly underway for a number of investment projects, including in pharmaceuticals and automotive assembly, but no final investment agreements are expected this week.
The yuan will be the world's third largest currency after the U.S. dollar and euro, a Chinese report predicts.
Unemployment currently stands at 12.7 percent in Kenya and affects 30 percent of the country's population
GM so far this year has recalled about 14.7 million vehicles worldwide with switch-related issues and has linked at least 16 deaths to those issues.
The deal includes hydropower and nuclear power plants in the South American country.
State-run think tank Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) reported earlier this month that a twin-engine version of the fighter jet is expected to cost around 8.5 trillion won
Western officials have repeatedly warned Iranian counterparts over the past six months that more economic pain is a risk for an OPEC member whose oil exports have already shrunk to a fraction of what they could have been