The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, which is viewed as a boost to the labor market outlook and the broader economy, Reuters reported.

 

However, other data released this morning showed a weakening in exports in December, which could mean a drag on trade in the first quarter if that trend extends into January.

 

"The underlying economic trend is still positive," Craig Dismuke, chief economic strategist at Vining Sparks in Memphis, told Reuters.

 

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000, the Labor Department said. That was a bit lower than economists' expectations for a fall to 335,000 in the week ended Feb. 1. Though the data has no bearing on January's employment report that will be released Friday, it bodes well for the job market.

 

According to a separate report by global outplacement consultant Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., monthly announced job cuts were up by 12 percent in January compared with a year ago, to more than 45,100 planned layoffs. The cuts were 47 percent higher than December's total, which was a 13-year low.

 

The heaviest downsizing activity occurred in retail, where poor earnings led to a wave of job cut announcements from several national chains, including Macy's, Sam's Club, J.C. Penney, Sears, Best Buy and Target. Overall, retailers announced 11,394 job cuts in January; a 71 percent increase from the 6,676 retail cuts tracked in January 2013.

 

In another report released this morning, the Commerce Department said the trade deficit increased 12 percent to $38.7 billion in December as exports recorded their largest decline since October 2012. When adjusted for inflation, the trade gap rose to $49.5 billion in December from $45 billion the prior month.

 

For 2013, the trade deficit was $471.5 billion, $63.1 billion less than the 2012 deficit of $534.7 billion. As a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product, the goods and services deficit was 2.8 percent in 2013, down from 3.3 percent in 2012.