April 19 - A minor drop in weekly jobless claims, slower regional factory activity, and a fall in existing home sales heightened fears the U.S. economy is slowing. Conway G. Gittens reports.
The latest jobless claims data are adding further evidence the U.S. labor market is not healing much from a slowdown in March. Applications for first-time unemployment benefits barely dropped last week, in data that will be used to help form the Labor Department's April employment report. The four-week moving average, which is considered a trend indicator, moved up. Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector is showing growing pains also. Business activity in the Mid-Atlantic region slowed sharply this month as new orders dropped to a seven-month low. And then there is housing. Sales of previously owned homes dropped in March, but there are hopeful signs: there was less supply and small price gains. Taking into account all the figures released on Thursday: there's some belief the warm weather earlier this year pulled economic activity forward, which is now moderating; something the Federal Reserve will have to consider when it holds a two-day policy meeting next week. Fed watchers don't expect any changes, but expect policy makers to leave the door open for additional stimulus if the recent slowdown gathers pace. Conway Gittens