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US jobless claims fall to five-week low

[WASHINGTON] The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to a healthy and expanding labour market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 282,000 for the week ended March 21, the Labour Department said on Thursday. That was the lowest level since mid-February.

Claims for the prior week were unrevised. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims dipping to 290,000 last week.

A Labour Department analyst said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data.

The sustained jobs market strength underscores the economy's solid fundamentals and suggests a recent slowdown in economic activity will be temporary.

Harsh weather, the now-settled labour dispute at the country's busy West Coast ports, softer global demand and a strong dollar have undercut growth early in the first quarter.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labour market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 7,750 to 297,000 last week.

Bad weather had pushed the four-week average above the 300,000 threshold and kept it there for three straight weeks.

The economy added 295,000 jobs in February, marking the 12th straight month that employment gains have been above 200,000, the longest such run since 1994.

Thursday's claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 6,000 to 2.42 million in the week ended March 14.

So-called continuing claims covered the period during which the government surveyed households for March's unemployment rate. Continuing claims rose 12,000 between the February and March survey periods, suggesting little change in the jobless rate.

The unemployment rate fell to a more than 6-1/2-year low of 5.5 per cent in February.