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US jobless claims up, but trend points to firming labour market

[WASHINGTON] The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose last week, but remained below levels consistent with a tightening labour market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 272,000 for the week ended Feb 20, the Labour Department said on Thursday. The prior week's claims were unrevised.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 270,000 in the latest week. It was the 51st week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labour market - the longest spell since the early 1970s.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labour market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 1,250 to 272,000 last week.

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The labour market remains strong despite worries about both the domestic and global economies, which have manifested themselves in a world-wide stock market sell-off that has tightened financial market conditions.

Though bets for a March interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve have been wiped out, further monetary policy tightening later in the year remains a possibility because of the jobs market resilience. The Fed raised its benchmark overnight interest rate in December for the first time in nearly a decade.

A Labour Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and no states had been estimated.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 19,000 to 2.25 million in the week ended Feb 13. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims declined 5,250 to 2.26 million.

The continuing claims data covered the survey week for February's unemployment rate. The four-week average of claims rose 9,250 between the January and February survey periods, suggesting the jobless rate likely held at an 8-year low of 4.9 per cent.