WASHINGTON — With layoffs spreading, the number of initial claims for jobless benefits rose last week, while the total number of people continuing to receive benefits set a record, the government said Thursday.
First-time requests for unemployment insurance rose to 654,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 645,000, above analysts' expectations, the Labor Department reported.
The number of people receiving benefits for more than a week increased by 193,000 to 5.3 million, the most on records dating back to 1967. That's the sixth time in the past seven weeks that the jobless claims rolls have set a record.
The four-week average of new claims, which smooths out fluctuations, rose to 650,000, the highest in more than 26 years, though the work force has grown by about half since then.
RETAIL SALES: Retail sales fell 0.1 percent in February, which was much less than the 0.5 percent analysts expected, the Commerce Department reported. The government also revised January's performance to show a 1.8 percent rise, the biggest increase in three years and stronger than the 1 percent gain that was originally reported. Still, analysts don't expect any sustained rebound in consumer spending soon.
OIL PRICES: Oil prices rose 11 percent as rumors swirled that Russia, which vies with Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer, would join the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in slashing crude production. Benchmark crude for April delivery jumped $4.70 to $47.03 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Analyst and trader Stephen Schork said investors latched onto reports that Russian Vice Premier Igor Sechin would attend an OPEC meeting Sunday in Vienna. Russia has previously flirted with OPEC, and investors snapped up crude stocks on the expectation that it would help the group cut production to balance weakening demand.