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Friday September 21, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A trio of reports Thursday offered a reminder that the U.S. economy is struggling to grow and add jobs.

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits last week stayed near a level that signals only weak hiring in September. Manufacturing shrank for a fifth straight month in the Phila delphia region, a sign that weaker global growth has hurt demand for American-made goods. And a measure of future economy activity declined for the second time in three months.

The data followed a poor month of hiring in August and the Federal Reserve’s move last week to launch new stimulus measures to give the hobbled recovery a jolt.

"There certainly doesn’t appear to be much improvement in the performance of the economy," said Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities. "Manufacturing continues to soften and decelerate. We shouldn’t expect to see substantial gains in hiring or output from manufacturers any time soon."

Thursday’s reports showed:

n Weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell by only 3,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 382,000, the Labor Department said. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose for the fifth straight week to 377,750. Applic ations, which are a proxy for layoffs, typically need to fall below 375,000 consistently to signal the job market is strong enough to lower unemployment.


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n The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia says its September index of regional manufacturing activity stayed below zero, which signals contraction in the market. While the index rose to -1.9, it has been negative since May. Nearly 23 percent of firms in the region reported declines in activity this month, only slight improvement from 30 percent of firms in August. The region includes firms in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

n The Conference Board said its index of leading indicators dipped 0.1 percent in August. The report noted that manufacturing orders, consumer confidence and average weekly manufacturing hours all slipped. The index is intended to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out.