November 4, 2010

Jobless Claims Rise Again; Productivity, Same-Store Sales Up

Four-week moving average of jobless claims is up by 2,000

First-time unemployment claims rose again by 20,000 for the week, according to figures released Thursday by the Department of Labor. The advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 457,000, up 20,000 from last week’s revised figure of 437,000. The four-week moving average increased 2,000 to 456,000 from last week’s revised average of 454,000.

The unadjusted advance number of actual initial claims under state programs was 419,351 in the week ending Oct. 30; this was up 10,881 from the prior week. In the comparable week in 2009, there were 482,612 initial claims.

Productivity was up, reflecting a 1.9% annual rate; it had fallen in Q2 by 1.8%. Worker costs were down, as they have been for five out of the past seven quarters. With companies still slashing jobs, workers are hard pressed to keep up in leaner, more demanding workplaces.

While employment figures indicated that there’s no early end in sight to financial difficulties, same-store sales figures showed an increase that implied that the holiday season might not be as bleak as formerly feared. Stores from Costco (COST.O) to Target (TGT.N) reflected increased consumer spending, with many beating analysts’ expectations.

Costco was up by 6%; Target’s sales came in at 1.7%, over estimates of 1.5%; Macy’s (M.N) cleared estimates of 1.6% handily at 2.5%, while the chain Zumiez (parent Limited Brands LTD.N) blew away estimates of 7.8% with actual same-store sales of 21.5%. Limited itself, which also owns Victoria’s Secret, posted gains of 9%; analysts expected a decline, according to a Bloomberg report. The Gap (GPS) posted gains, but did not meet analysts’ expectations of 2.8%; same-store sales only rose by 2%.

Other stores, such as Walgreens (WAG.N), did not fare so well; the drug chain’s sales dropped 1.3%.

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