William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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A FUNNY THING HAPPENED TO THE ECONOMY ON THE WAY TO RECOVERY – AT 9:01 A.M. ET:  After weeks of progress, the U.S. jobless claims number suddenly rose to 399,000, just 1,000 under the "danger" mark.  From Bloomberg:  

More Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, raising the possibility that a greater-than-usual increase in temporary holiday hiring boosted December payrolls.

Jobless claims climbed by 24,000 to 399,000 in the week ended Jan. 7, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 46 economists in a Bloomberg News survey projected 375,000. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls rose, while those receiving extended payments decreased.

Hiring by package delivery companies and retailers during the holidays to meet demand for gifts may now be giving way to an increase in dismissals. At the same time, claims figures are subject to greater volatility during this time of year, as the government has trouble adjusting the data for the seasonal swings in employment.

And...

Retail sales in December rose less than forecast, restrained by cheaper fuel prices and holiday discounting that helped hold down the value of goods purchased, figures from the Commerce Department also showed today. The 0.1 percent gain followed a 0.4 percent advance in November that was more than initially reported.

COMMENT:  We'll have to wait for three or more weekly reports to see if this is just a temporary problem, or indicative of a return to long-term doldrums.

Clearly, the state of the economy will have a profound influence on the election, and unemployment figures will probably have the most influence.  So figures like these are critical.

January 12, 2012