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US jobless claims point to firmer labour market

[WASHINGTON] The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting the labour market continued to strengthen.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000 for the week ended Dec 13, the Labour Department said on Thursday.

The report came a day after the Federal Reserve offered an upbeat assessment of the labour market and the broader economy, and signalled it could start raising interest rates next year.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging up to 295,000 last week. The prior week's data was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.

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The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labour market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, slipped by 750 to 298,750.

Last week's data covered the period during which the government surveyed employers for December's nonfarm payrolls.

The four-week average of claims rose by 11,000 between the November and December survey periods, suggesting a step back in job growth after payrolls surged by 321,000 last month. The December payrolls are still expected to come in above 200,000.

A Labour Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data.

The report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell by 147,000 to 2.37 million in the week ended Dec 6.