|US Jobless Claims -22K To 432K In Dec 26 Week|
By Luca Di Leo and Sarah N. Lynch
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits in the U.S. unexpectedly fell in the latest week to its lowest level in 18 months, a sign the labor market may have turned a corner.
Meantime, the Labor Department said in its weekly report Thursday that the number of people collecting jobless benefits for more than a week also continued to decline.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 432,000 in the week ended Dec. 26, the lowest level since July 19, 2008. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast claims would rise by 3,000.
The Labor Department revised the initial claims level for the week of Dec. 19 to 454,000 from an originally reported 452,000.
The tally of continuing claims, or those drawn by workers collecting benefits for more than one week, fell by 57,000 to 4,981,000 in the week ended Dec. 19.
The four-week average of new claims, which aims to smooth volatility in the data, dropped by 5,500 to 460,250 - marking its 17th consecutive drop. That was the lowest level since Sep. 20, 2008.
The unemployment rate for workers with unemployment insurance for the week ending Dec. 19 remained unchanged at 3.8%.
U.S. Federal Reserve officials earlier this month said the deterioration in the labor market was abating, but reaffirmed plans to keep interest rates near zero for several months due to still-high unemployment.
Recent data signal that the U.S. recovery from the worst recession in decades is taking hold. Orders for durable goods, or those intended to last more than three years, were up 0.2% in November as strength returned to the manufacturing sector.
Robust retail sales and improving consumer confidence, meanwhile, have raised expectations for strong economic growth in the fourth quarter. That's prompted some optimism that employers may resume hiring early in the next year.
The U.S. unemployment rate declined unexpectedly to 10% in November as employers cut jobs at the slowest pace since the recession began at the end of 2007.
The Labor Department is set to release December unemployment and nonfarm payroll figures next Friday. Economists at Wrightson ICAP predicted in a note Wednesday that the jobless rate may have inched lower to 9.9% in December.
In Thursday's report, Michigan reported the largest jump in new claims - 8,382 - during the Dec. 19 week due to an increase in layoffs in the automobile industry. Regional figures are not adjusted to reflect seasonal fluctuations.
Tennessee reported the largest decrease in initial claims - 2,972 - but did not provide a reason for the drop.
-By Luca Di Leo and Sarah N. Lynch, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-6682; luca.dileo@dowjones