A trio of economic reports released Thursday — January retail sales, weekly first-time unemployment benefits claims and December factory orders — added up to more bad news for the U.S. economy. Today's national jobless report is certain to reinforce the hard reality that the recession is tightening its grip.
Shoppers passed by the jewelry counter in January, delayed buying their favorite perfume and even skimped on buying clothes for their growing kids.
January retail sales fell 1.6 percent, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs tally — not as bad as expected but still the fourth consecutive monthly decline. The index was helped by the better-than-expected results from Wal-Mart, which accounts for just over half the index. Excluding Wal-Mart, sales fell 4.8 percent. The tally is based on same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year.
New jobless claims jumped far more than expected last week, and there's no relief in sight for workers as mass layoffs persist.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of newly jobless workers seeking benefits rose last week to a seasonally adjusted 626,000, from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 591,000. It's the highest total since October 1982.
Economists expect the government to issue a grim report today that will show the unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent in January, up from 7.2 percent in December. That would be the highest rate in 17 years.
The number of total jobless doesn't include an additional 1.7 million people receiving unemployment insurance through a 33-week extension of benefits Congress approved last year, which brings the total to about 6.5 million.
Orders to U.S. factories fell for a record fifth straight month in December, closing out the worst year for American manufacturers since 2002.
The Commerce Department said Thursday that orders dropped 3.9 percent in December. The weakness was widespread, with a range of industries from autos to heavy machinery and computers all reporting big declines in demand.
For all of 2008, factory orders rose 0.4 percent, the weakest showing since orders actually fell 1.8 percent in 2002.
December declines, by sector:
• Commercial aircraft: -43.8 percent
• Motor vehicles and parts: -5.7 percent
• Primary metals, such as steel: -7.1 percent
• Machinery orders: -5.7 percent
• Computers/electronics: -6.5 percent