New Jobless Claims Take Biggest One-Week Dip in 6 Months

The number of U.S. workers seeking first-time jobless claims plunged last week, as expected, after surging the prior week during the start of the holiday season, a government report showed Thursday.

First-time initial claims fell by 34,000 to a seasonally adjusted 324,000 in the week ended Dec. 2, down from a revised 358,000 in the previous week, the Labor Department said.

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The decline was in line with the forecasts from Wall Street economists who were expecting claims to fall to 325,000 from the originally reported 357,000 for the week ended Nov. 25.

"There is nothing really disturbing in this report," said Robert Brusca, chief economist for Fact and Opinion Economics in New York.

U.S. stock futures did not react to the report and the government's benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were unchanged in price in recent trading to yield 4.49 percent.

The euro was steady against the dollar on Thursday, after an initial jump, as the European Central Bank revised lower its inflation outlook for 2007.

The weekly jobless claims report is typically volatile during this time of year, a Labor Department official said, adding that there were no special factors leading to the decline.

Still, the four-week moving average, a better gauge of labor trends because it irons out weekly fluctuations, hit its highest level since May. It moved up to 328,750 from 325,250 in the prior week, for the sixth straight weekly gain.

The number of people who remained on the benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid rose 57,000 to 2.52 million in the week ended Nov. 25, the latest week for which these figures were available.

The jobless claims data is one of the final pieces of data to be published before Federal Reserve policy-makers meet on Dec. 12 to weigh their next move on interest rates.

Analysts expect the U.S. central bank to leave interest rates unchanged at 5.25 percent.

Financial markets are now turning their attention to Friday's release of the November employment report, which will give a broader look at labor market conditions throughout the United States.

Economists forecast November's unemployment rate will rise to 4.5 percent from 4.4 percent in the prior month with 110,000 jobs created outside the farm sector. That compares with 92,000 jobs created in October.

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