U.S. jobless claims rise for first time in three weeks

, Bloomberg

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JobApplications

Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. rose for the first time in three weeks, returning to levels seen prior to the holiday period and indicating little change in the pace of firings.

Jobless claims increased by 20,000 to 362,000 in the week ended Feb. 16, the Labor Department reported Thursday in Washington. The median forecast of 48 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an increase to 355,000. The number of applications in three states and the District of Columbia was estimated because of the holiday-shortened week, a Labor Department spokesman said as the data was released.

Companies are maintaining their staffing levels even amid concern that rising gasoline prices and a January tax increase will damp consumer spending. Looming cuts in government spending also threaten to slow growth, a sign that hiring may be limited in coming months.

"It's a stable level of claims," said Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York, which predicted claims would rise to 365,000. "The main issue is the pace of hiring is not picking up. Businesses feel very uncertain about the outlook."

The cost of living was little changed in January for a second month as a drop in energy costs offset gains in clothing, hotel rates and airline fares, another report from the Labor Department showed Thursday. Over the past 12 months, the consumer- price index increased 1.6 percent, the smallest year-over-year gain since July.

The so-called core measure, which excludes more volatile food and energy costs, increased 0.3 percent, more than forecast.

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