Iraq, Oil Prices Continue To Take Toll On U.S. Jobs

By John S. McClenahen The uncertainty over a war with Iraq and the certainty of higher oil prices continue to keep many corporate executives from hiring more workers or making major capital expenditures. For the week ending March 1, initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to 430,000, an increase of 12,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 418,000, says the U.S. Labor Department. That's a three-month high, notes David A. Rosenberg, chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York. The department's four-week moving average for initial claims also increased, rising to 408,750, some 8,750 more than the week before. In other reports, new orders for manufactured goods, not including semiconductors, rose 2.1% in January to $327.1 billion, U.S. Commerce Department data show. The biggest percentage of the increase came from autos, something that's not likely to continue since major producers have announced production cutbacks in the face of slumping sales. Meanwhile, the Labor Department has revised fourth-quarter 2002 productivity figures. Output per hour of all workers in the non-farm business sector of the U.S. economy grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.8% during the final three months of last year rather than the 0.2% rate of decline originally reported. Productivity in manufacturing grew at an annual rate of 0.1% in 2002's fourth quarter, significantly less than the 0.7% rate of increase initially reported. The difference: Both output and hours worked dropped more than first figured.

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