A weekly compilation of the number of individuals who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time. This indicator, and more importantly, its four-week moving average, portends trends in the labor market.
Why do Investors Care?
Jobless claims are an easy way to gauge the strength of the job market. The fewer people filing for unemployment benefits, the more have jobs, and that tells investors a great deal about the economy. Nearly every job comes with an income which gives a household spending power. Spending greases the wheels of the economy and keeps it growing, so the stronger the job market, the healthier the economy.
There’s a downside to it, though, which is relevant these days. Unemployment claims, and therefore the number of job seekers, can fall to such a low level that businesses have a tough time finding new workers. They might have to pay overtime to current staff, use higher wages to lure people from other jobs, and in general spend more on labor costs because of a shortage of workers. This leads to wage inflation which is bad news for the stock and bond markets. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan talks about it all the time and watches for it constantly.
By tracking the number of jobless claims, investors can gain a sense of how tight the job market is. If wage inflation threatens, it’s a good bet that interest rates will rise, bond and stock prices will fall, and the only investors in a good mood will be the ones who tracked jobless claims and adjusted their portfolios to anticipate these events.
Just remember, the lower the number of unemployment claims, the stronger the job market, and vice versa.