Home Sales Sputter in March, Along With Hiring

The Associated Press

By Christopher S. Rugaber and Derek Kravitz

WASHINGTON -- Momentum in U.S. hiring and home sales appears to be slowing, according to fresh data.

The average number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits over the past month is at a three-month high. And fewer Americans bought previously owned homes in March after mild weather boosted sales in the previous two months. A possible weakening in two critical elements of the U.S. economy suggests growth could stay modest this year.

"We are in for a few more quarters of moderate growth before stronger gains might appear," said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. More hiring is needed to drive up wages and salaries and fuel the recovery, he added.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dipped last week by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 386,000. But that was only after the department revised up the previous week's data to show 8,000 more people applied for benefits than first estimated.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose last week by 5,500, to 374,750. That's the highest level in three months, although it is still 9 percent lower than the level from September.

Unemployment benefit applications have started to tick up in recent weeks after months of steady declines. When applications fall below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring will be strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Economists said temporary layoffs stemming from the spring holidays may have inflated the figures. Many school employees are laid off during spring break and are eligible to file for benefits.