NEW YORK (Reuters) - New claims for unemployment benefits edged down last week, according to a government report on Thursday that pointed to a modest improvement in the labor market at the start of the fourth quarter.
The U.S. trade deficit narrowed marginally in August, but the trade gap with China widened to a record high, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.
STEVEN WOOD, CHIEF ECONOMIST, INSIGHT ECONOMICS, DANVILLE, CALIFORNIA
"Initial claims slipped slightly in the latest week and remained just above the 400,000 level where it has been for the 25th time in the last 26 weeks. After averaging 459,000 per week in 2010, new jobless claims have averaged 415,000 this year, a clear indication that the pace of layoffs has slowed. However, layoffs remain relatively high and there has been little incremental improvement over the past 6 months. The labor market remains relatively stagnant."
STEPHEN STANLEY, CHIEF ECONOMIST, PIERPONT SECURITIES, STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT
TRADE GAP: "This is consistent with anecdotal evidence that there is weakness in consumer goods imports. Retailers are very cautious. They are stocking lightly before the holidays. I would expect this could happen again in September.
"Consumers are doing okay. Last year, retailers actually undershot and they ran out of stocks during the holidays. This could happen again this year.
"With the number pretty close to expectations, it would not have a lot of impact on third-quarter GDP, which is running in the 2.0-2.5 percent area."
DAVID SLOAN, ECONOMIST, IFR ECONOMICS, A UNIT OF THOMSON REUTERS
"The August trade deficit of $45.6 bln was close to a $45.8 bln consensus, and unchanged from July, but with July's deficit revised up from $44.8 bln the deficit net of revisions can be seen as a little higher than expected. Exports and imports were also both virtually unchanged from July, though the deficit widened slightly in real terms after a sharp July improvement. Net exports still look likely to make a positive contribution to Q3 GDP but the trade report should keep expectations for that release with a 2 handle, improved from the first half of the year but still not strong enough to reduce unemployment."
"The August deficit with China of $29.0 bln was the highest on record, and up from $27.0 bln in July, but only a modest deterioration from $28.2 bln a year ago. More notable is a rise in the deficit with Japan to $6.7 bln from $5.2 bln in July and $5.8 bln a year ago, a sign that supply restraints are fading as an issue here with imports from Japan the highest since June 2008. The subdued tone of overall imports is now therefore a reflection on the state of US demand."
JEFFREY GREENBERG, ECONOMIST, NOMURA SECURITIES, NEW YORK
"The trend is going in the right direction. Despite relatively week payrolls over the past few months, it's been an issue of firms not adding to their payrolls rather than firms starting to cut because of economic uncertainty. That means that firms are in the position to eventually start adding.
"We see it as a relatively bright spot in a mixed bag of data and so far we've seen a lot of relatively strong hard data in the past few weeks despite sentiment and general soft data telling us there's been a lack of confidence. But as was made clear by the minutes to the FOMC yesterday and Plosser's comments, even if we get good data out of the U.S. it doesn't mean that much because the focus is really on Europe.
"We get some good data, but minutes later it seems like people realize the U.S. is vulnerable to influences from the outside.
"Trade data are outdated. And no surprises there. Treasuries seem to be pretty much unfazed."
YELENA SHULYATYEVA, U.S. ECONOMIST, BNP PARIBAS, NEW YORK
"This is a slight dip in claims, but this is too early to say things are improving. The four-week moving average is still above 400,000. What we are seeing is that as the economic outlook weakens, employers tend to slow their hirings, and claims don't capture that."
SUBODH KUMAR, CHIEF INVESTMENT STRATEGIST, SUBODH KUMAR & ASSOCIATES IN TORONTO
"Claims seem to be sticky around the 400,000 area, which suggests that the economy remains weak. There's no week-to-week change of any substance. The issue for equities is going to be revenue growth, which looks weak. On the other side, the European financial situation isn't settled, which will keep the dollar buoyant."