The number of people filing initial claims for unemployment benefits rose last week to 524,000 from a revised 470,000 a week earlier, according to the Labor Department.
This is a bit higher than economists expected but it isn't much of a surprise, given that lackluster holiday sales hit retailers hard and the ongoing recession is affecting a broad swath of industries. Nevertheless, this particular piece of data may be something that we can ignore for now. Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR, says in a note this morning that "the impossibility of correctly adjusting for varying seasonal patterns makes these data virtually useless on a weekly basis during much of December and all of January."
The weekly jobless claims data is probably not useful until the first or second week of February, he says, adding: "We encourage our readers to ignore anyone who attempts to use any single result during this period as evidence of anything."