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Initial U.S. jobless claims total 4.43 million; gold holds onto gains

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Editor's note: updating earlier story with more details from report, comments from economist.

(Kitco News) - Another 4.43 million Americans filed for first-time U.S. jobless claims in the week to Saturday, the Labor Department said Thursday.

After the report, spot gold held onto overnight gains, last trading up $12 to $1,726.10 an ounce.

The claims figure was within consensus expectations compiled by news organizations, which called for initial jobless claims to be around 4 million to 4.5 million. The previous week’s 5.25 million claims were revised to 5.24 million.

This was the fifth straight week that new claims topped 3 million after the previous all-time high had been 695,000 back in October 1982, according to Labor Department figures. Traders have been closely monitoring jobless claims to gauge just how weak the April U.S. employment report will be, since most of the layoffs came after the cutoff date for the March report released at the start of the month. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs or been furloughed due to the lockdowns and social-distancing measures across the country to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many businesses temporarily closing their doors.

This was the sixth straight week the Labor Department issued a statement attributing a rise to layoffs as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The increase was especially pronounced the last five weeks, with a total 26.45 million claims filed during this time period.

“With these data covering the payroll survey week [for the April employment report], we now know that there has been a cumulative 26 million initial jobless claims made since March's survey period, accounting for 17% of the previously employed population,” said Andrew Grantham of CIBC economics. “While the decline in payrolls employment and rise in unemployment rate won't be as severe as that, with continuing claims once again not rising quite as much as expected and as such suggesting some of the claims have been short term in nature, we've clearly still seen a dramatic and historic weakening of the economy since mid-March.”

He said the April unemployment rate likely will rise by less than the cumulative jobless-claims figures would suggest, perhaps reaching 12% to 13%. The jobless rate will understate the weaker employment picture since some people will exit the labor market, resulting in a big fall in participation.

“Secondly, the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] advised previously that persons employed but absent from work due to a coronavirus-related business closure should be classed as unemployed on temporary layoff,” Grantham said. “However, they also stated at the time of the March data release that ‘it is apparent that not all such workers were so classified’ and that the rise in people absent from work due to ‘other reasons’ was worth about 1% of the employed population that month.”

Meanwhile, the four-week moving average for new claims – normally viewed as a more reliable measure of the labor market since it smooths out week-to-week volatility – rose by 280,000 to 5.79 million.

Continuing jobless claims, which counts the number of people already receiving benefits and reported with a one-week delay, increased by 4 million to a seasonally adjusted 15.98 million during the week ending April 11, the government said. This was the highest level of seasonally adjusted insured unemployment recorded in the history of the data, the government said.

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