New claims for U.S. unemployment benefits fell unexpectedly to 273,000 last week, pushing a four-week average of claims to the lowest level in nearly six years, a government report showed on Thursday.
Initial claims for state jobless aid fell 11,000 in the week ended Jan. 28 from an upwardly revised 284,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said. That bucked Wall Street expectations for an increase in claims to 295,000 from the initially reported 283,000 claims the prior week.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors behind the drop.
A four-week average of new claims, which smooths weekly volatility to provide a better picture of labor market trends, decreased 4,750 to 284,250 - the lowest since June 2000, when it hit 283,500.
The number of unemployed workers who remained on the benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid fell 64,000 to 2.51 million in the week ended Jan. 21, the latest period for which that data is available. That was just below market expectations and marked the lowest level of continued claims since February 2001.
A more comprehensive look at the U.S. job market will come on Friday with the release of the Labor Department's monthly payrolls report. Employers are expected to have added 240,000 jobs in January after a disappointing 108,000 increase in December. The unemployment rate is forecast to remain at 4.9 percent.