US jobless claims drop to 5-year low

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Updated 25 January 2013
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US jobless claims drop to 5-year low

WASHINGTON: The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to the lowest level in five years, evidence that employers are cutting fewer jobs and may step up hiring.
The Labor Department said yesterday that weekly unemployment benefit applications dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 330,000. That's the fewest since January 2008.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 351,750. That's also the lowest in nearly five years.
The decline may reflect the government's difficulty adjusting its numbers to account for layoffs after the holiday shopping season.
Layoffs spike in the second week of January and then plummet. The department seeks to adjust for those trends, but the figures can still be volatile.
If the trend holds up, fewer applications would suggest the job market is improving.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 for most of last year. At the same time, employers added an average of 153,000 jobs a month. That's just been enough to slowly push down the unemployment rate, which fell 0.7 percentage points last year to 7.8 percent.
There have been other positive signs for the economy and job market.
The once-battered housing sector is recovering, which is boosting construction and home prices. Home builders started work in 2012 on the most new homes in four years. And sales of previously occupied homes reached their highest level in five years last year. Still, home building and sales remain below the levels consistent with a healthy economy.
More home building will likely increase job growth. In December, the economy gained 30,000 construction jobs — the most in 15 months. And economists expect construction firms to add more jobs this year as the housing recovery strengthens.
Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight, forecasts that construction companies will add 140,000 jobs this year, up from a meager 18,000 in 2012.
The overall economy grew at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the July-September quarter. But economists believe activity slowed considerably in the October-December quarter to a rate below 2 percent or less, in part because companies cut back on restocking.
Less restocking leads to slower factory production, which weighs on economic growth.


Oil prices fall as OPEC and Russia weigh output boost

Updated 59 min 54 sec ago
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Oil prices fall as OPEC and Russia weigh output boost

  • Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak has had talks with Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih on an easing of the terms of the global oil supply pact that has been in place for 17 months
  • The energy ministers of Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United Arab Emirates are discussing an output increase of about 1 million barrels per day

LONDON: Oil prices fell below $78 a barrel on Friday as OPEC and Russia considered easing supply curbs to offset disruptions in Venezuela and an expected drop in Iranian exports.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak has had talks with Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih on an easing of the terms of the global oil supply pact that has been in place for 17 months, Novak said on Friday.
The energy ministers of Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United Arab Emirates are discussing an output increase of about 1 million barrels per day (bpd), sources told Reuters.
Speaking in St. Petersburg, Falih told Reuters that “all options are on the table” when asked about the targets on production cuts.
Brent crude futures were down 80 cents at $77.99 a barrel by 0914 GMT, having hit their highest since late 2014 at $80.50 this month.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $70.18 a barrel, down 53 cents.
“The debate about a possible relaxation of the production restrictions should preclude any renewed price rise,” Commerzbank analysts said.
“The $80 mark is likely to pose an obstacle that is difficult to overcome because it would significantly raise the probability of a production increase.”
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as a group of non-OPEC producers led by Russia started withholding output in 2017 to tighten the market and prop up prices.
Global crude supplies have tightened sharply over the past year because of the OPEC-led cuts, which were boosted by a dramatic drop in Venezuelan production.
The prospects of renewed sanctions on Iran after US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Tehran have also boosted prices in recent weeks.
As a result, compliance with the deal to reduce output by 1.8 million bpd by the end of 2018 has been at 152 percent, sources said.
Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultancy Energy Aspects, said: “Addressing overcompliance was always likely to be on the agenda amid a tight market and low inventories, but the volume to bring back is still up for debate.”

HIGHER PRICES AT A COST
While Russia and OPEC benefit from higher oil prices, up almost 20 percent since the end of last year, their voluntary output cuts have opened the door to other producers to ramp up production and gain market share.
US crude oil production has risen by more than a quarter in the past two years, to 10.73 million bpd. Only Russia produces more, at about 11 million bpd.
Output from the likes of the United States, Canada and Brazil, which are not bound by the OPEC/Russian-led pact, is likely to rise further as crude prices rise.