U.S. weekly jobless claims unexpectedly rise

A lot more Americans than expected filed jobless claims for the first time last week. The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial claims for unemployment benefits rose to 861,000.

That surprised economists, who had forecast 765,000 applications. The temporary closure of auto plants due to a global chip shortage may have partly been behind the rise in claims.

Although applications are still stuck above their 665,000 peak during the Great Recession after dropping from a record 6.9 million in March, there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic.

Coronavirus infections have been declining since mid-January. So have hospitalization rates. Plus, retail sales grew by the most in seven months in January, and Congress is considering President Joe Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion recovery package. And a Federal Reserve report said most Fed officials see progress in vaccinations leading to what they see as a “sizable boost in economic activity.”