Unemployment Claims Fell Sharply Last Week

Total U.S. jobless claims dropped sharply for the second consecutive week and to its lowest in nearly two years, the government said Wednesday, but cautioned against reading too much into one week's figure.

Initial state unemployment insurance benefits fell by 17,000 to 364,000 in the week ended Nov. 23, the Labor Department said, down from a revised 381,000 recorded for the previous week and at its lowest since 355,000 in the Feb. 17, 2001 week.

Wall Street economists had forecast new claims of 382,000 for the latest week.

The Labor Department said, however, that new claims are more volatile during the November and December holiday season, noting that the Thanksgiving holiday last year was one week earlier.

Still, the weekly figure was also in line with a more reliable barometer of employment market trends, the closely watched four-week moving average. This number, which irons out week-to-week volatility, fell for the third consecutive week, the Labor Department said.

It reached 385,750 in the Nov. 23 week, down from 397,000 the prior week and was at its lowest since 382,500 in the Aug. 10, 2002 week.

The number of workers continuing to file for benefits rose to 3.65 million in the week ended Nov. 16, the latest week for which data were available, from a revised 3.56 million for the prior week.

Meanwhile, data on U.S. personal income and spending for October, released separately by the Commerce Department, supported the idea the economy was livening up.

U.S. consumers dug deeper into their wallets in October, as personal spending outpaced income growth for the first time since the summer, the Commerce Department said.