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[WASHINGTON] The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, suggesting some loss of momentum in the labour market amid a sharp economic slowdown and stock market selloff.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 285,000 for the week ended Jan 30, the Labour Department said on Thursday. The prior week's claims were revised to show 1,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
Despite the increase last week, claims remained below 300,000, a level associated with strong labour market conditions, for the 48th straight week. That is the longest run since the early 1970s.
A Labour Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and only claims in Oklahoma had been estimated.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labour market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,000 to 284,750 last week.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 280,000 in the latest week.
The rise in claims came as economic growth slowed to a 0.7 per cent annual pace in the fourth quarter, held back by the headwinds of a strong dollar and faltering global demand.
A downturn in capital spending by energy companies, reeling from a collapse in oil prices, and inventory destocking by businesses are also constraining growth. At the same time, a stock market rout sparked by fears of a global economic slump has caused financial conditions to tighten.
The claims data has no bearing on January's employment report, which is scheduled to be released on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls are expected to have increased 190,000 last month after surging 292,000 in December. The unemployment rate is forecast holding steady at a 7-1/2-year low of 5 per cent.
Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 18,000 to 2.26 million in the week ended Jan 23. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims increased 5,250 to 2.25 million.