U.S. jobless claims at three-month low
By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected and hit a three-month low last week, a sign of strength in a labor market that has been hobbled by severe weather.
Other data on Thursday showed a second straight month of declines in new factory orders in January, likely as harsh weather disrupted activity in some regions of the country.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 26,000 to a seasonally adjusted 323,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the lowest level since the end of November and the drop more than unwound the prior week's rise.
"Initial claims returned to a more normal level, consistent with a healthy labor market turnover," said Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York.
Economists had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits falling to 338,000 in the week ended March 1.
The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, slipped 2,000 to 336,500.
The claims data has no bearing on Friday's employment report for February as it falls outside the reference period for the survey. While unseasonably cold weather has dampened hiring in recent months, the drop in new filings for jobless benefits suggests labor market fundamentals remain strong.
Nonfarm payrolls are forecast to have increased by 150,000 jobs in February, according to a Reuters survey of economists, up from the weather-depressed gains of 113,000 in January and 75,000 in December. Continued...