By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, showing widespread layoffs remain low despite a surge in technology-sector job cuts that has raised fears of an imminent recession.
The weekly unemployment claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday, the most timely data on the economy’s health, suggested the labor market remained tight. That, together with strong retail sales growth in October, will keep the Federal Reserve on track to continue raising interest rates, though at a slower pace amid signs inflation is starting to subside.
“This is a testimony to how tight the labor market remains,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 for the week ended Nov. 12, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 225,000 claims for the latest week.
There has been an increase in layoffs in the technology sector, with Twitter, Amazon and Meta, the parent of Facebook, announcing thousands of job cuts this month. Companies in interest-rate sensitive sectors like housing and finance are also letting workers go.
The layoffs have so far not been evident in official data. Unadjusted claims dropped 6,101 to 199,603 last week. Claims in California, the epicenter of the technology job cuts, rose by only 302 last week. Big decreases in claims were reported in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana and Texas, offsetting notable increases in Minnesota and North Carolina.
Economists say businesses outside the technology and housing sectors are hoarding workers after difficulties finding labor in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. With 1.9 job openings for every unemployed person in September, some of the workers being laid off are probably finding new employment quickly.
Economists at Goldman Sachs dismissed worries that the technology layoffs were flagging an imminent recession in a note this week. They argued that technology job openings remained well above their pre-pandemic level. They also noted technology-sector layoffs have not historically been a leading indicator for deterioration in the overall labor market.
“Announced tech job cuts have frequently spiked without a corresponding increase in cuts in other sectors and have otherwise been a coincidental indicator,” they wrote.
The Fed has raised its policy rate by 375 basis points this year from near zero to a 3.75%-4.00% range as it battles high inflation in what has become the fastest rate-hiking cycle since the 1980s. So far, the economy is weathering the tighter monetary policy storm, with data on Wednesday showing strong retail sales growth in October.
U.S. stocks opened lower. The dollar rose against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices fell.
HOUSING STARTS FALL
The claims data covered the week during which the government surveyed business establishments for the nonfarm payrolls component of November’s employment report. Claims rose marginally between the October and November survey periods, suggesting another month of solid job growth. The economy created 261,000 jobs in October.
Next week’s data on the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid will shed more light on November’s employment report. The so-called continuing claims, a proxy for hiring, increased 13,000 to 1.507 million in the week ending Nov. 5, the claims report showed.
But the housing market is crumbling under the weight of higher borrowing costs.
A separate report from the Commerce Department on Thursday showed housing starts decreased 4.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.425 million units last month. Economists had forecast starts would slide to a rate of 1.410 million units. Housing starts dropped 8.8% on a year-on-year basis in October.
Single-family housing starts, which account for the biggest share of homebuilding, tumbled 6.1% to a rate of 855,000 units, the lowest level since May 2020. Single-family homebuilding declined in all four regions.
Starts for housing projects with five units or more slipped 0.5% to a rate of 556,000 units. Multi-family housing construction has fared better as soaring mortgage rates force many potential homebuyers to remain renters. A key gauge of rents surged by the most on record on a year-on-year basis in October, according to the latest consumer price data.
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is averaging above 7%, the highest level since 2002, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac.
Data on Wednesday showed confidence among single-family homebuilders fell for an 11th straight month in November.
Permits for future home construction fell 2.4% to a rate of 1.526 million units in October. Single-family building permits dropped 3.6% to a rate of 839,000 units.
Permits for housing projects with five units or more slipped 1.9% to a rate of 633,000 units.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)