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Midwest factories roar, but labour market weak

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Factory activity in the U.S. Midwest accelerated in June, bolstering hopes for an economic pick-up in the third quarter, despite signs of lingering weakness in the labour market.
    
The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago said on Thursday its business barometer rose to 61.1 from 56.6 in May. Economists had expected the index to drop to 54.
    
"It is a good number—this is June, and I think that is the key to all this. People think that the economy sort of died and is not coming back for a while but the Japan thing is pretty much behind us, which is positive for production," said Kurt Karl, chief U.S. economist at Swiss RE in New York.
    
But optimism was tempered somewhat by a separate report from the Labour Department showing initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped just 1,000 to 428,000. Economists had expected claims to drop to 420,000.
    
It was the 12th straight week that claims have been above 400,000, a sign the labour market has stagnated. Employment stumbled badly in May, with employers adding just 54,000 jobs—the fewest in eight months.
    
"Payroll growth (in June) is going to be more like last month's rather than first three months of the year," said Troy Davig, senior U.S. economist at Barclays Capital in New York.
    
Nonfarm payrolls are expected to have increased 90,000 this month, according to a Reuters survey, with the unemployment rate edging down to 9.0 percent. The employment report for June will be released on July 8.
    
Details of the Chicago PMI survey were generally upbeat, with new orders and production rising. The employment index was lower but it still indicated expansion. The report came a day before the release of a broader survey on manufacturing, expected to show a cooling factory activity.
    
The Chicago PMI breaks a string of weak regional factory surveys.

JAPAN ON THE MEND

    
The economy has been slammed by bad weather, high gasoline prices and supply chain disruptions after the March earthquake in Japan.
    
However, many economists and the Federal Reserve believe activity will pick-up in the third quarter as these temporary factors ease.
    
Temporary auto plant layoffs also may have weighed on claims in the latest week, according to Brett Ryan, an economist with Deutsche Bank in New York.
    
"We think in July definitely we will start to see the number drift back down," he said. "We do think from anecdotal evidence from Toyota and other automakers that hiring will go up in July."
    
Japanese factory output jumped by the most in almost 60 years in May, government data showed on Wednesday, as manufacturers restored supply chains damaged by the earthquake.
    
Data from PayNet Inc on Thursday also offered hope the economy is poised to pick up in coming months.
   
The Thomson Reuters/PayNet Small Business Lending Index, which measures the overall volume of financing to U.S. small businesses, rose a record 26 percent in May from a year earlier to its highest since July 2008.
    
The claims data, however, showed current conditions remain bleak.
    
The four-week moving average of unemployment claims, a better measure of underlying trends, nudged up 500 to 426,750.
    
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 12,000 to 3.70 million in the week ended June 18. So-called continuing claims covered the survey week for the employment report's household survey, from which the unemployment rate is derived.
    
The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits climbed 1,471 to 3.30 million in the week ended June 11, the latest week for which data is available. A total of 7.51 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs, down 30,701 from the prior week.
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