Jobless claims were in focus this morning as seasonally adjusted initial claims were surprisingly high at 228K versus expectations of 200K. Previously, adjusted claims had consistently come in well below 200K with 10 readings below that level in the last 11 weeks. However, that large increase in the most recent week’s data was matched with large revisions to the past couple of years’ data as the BLS updated its seasonal adjustment methodology. The net impact of those changes was to redistribute claims throughout the year, revising up readings from Q1 and Q4 while Q2 and Q3 were revised down; total or average annual readings were not changed. As discussed in greater detail on the BLS website and we will review in more depth in tonight’s Closer, there are two methods for seasonal adjustment: multiplicative or additive. Most of the time the claims data has used multiplicative seasonal factoring, but periods like the first year of the pandemic in which the indicator experiences unusually large level increases means an additive approach becomes more apt. This week, the BLS applied a new hybrid approach with additive factoring applied from early March 2020 through mid-2021 and multiplicative factoring for all other periods.
As shown below, that change back to multiplicative factoring resulted in some large revisions for initial claims over the past couple of years. In turn, that has dramatically changed the picture jobless claims have painted. Previously (red line in chart below) claims had been more or less trending sideways after bottoming around a year ago, but after these revisions (blue line) claims are trending upwards and bottomed this past September. In addition, the upward revision to 247K to the print from two weeks ago would mark the highest level since January 2022.
As for the non-seasonally adjusted data, the story is much less noisy being unaffected by the aforementioned revisions. In other words, the overall picture for claims hasn’t changed when looking at this series. Claims remain near historically healthy levels consistent with the few years prior to the pandemic. Granted, those are off the strongest readings from last year. At this point of the year, claims are also trending lower as could be expected based on seasonal patterns. The next couple of weeks may see claims move higher because of seasonality, though, that would likely prove to be a temporary bump in the road with claims resuming the trend lower through the late spring.
The revision likewise impacted continuing claims which rose to 1.823 million in the most recent week. That brings claims back up to the highest levels since December 2021 as they have risen sequentially for three weeks in a row.
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