The number of U.S. workers seeking first-time jobless aid fell by 10,000 last week, a government report on Thursday showed, signaling a relatively healthy job market.
The Labor Department said the number of initial jobless claims declined to 312,000 in the week ended August 12 from a revised 322,000 in the prior week. That was moderately lower than the 315,000 claims that analysts had forecast in a Reuters poll.
Previously, the department said there had been 319,000 claims in the prior week ended August 5 but it revised that figure upward.
There were fewer layoffs in Missouri in transportation and in furniture industries during the August 12 week while Virginia reported fewer layoffs in its manufacturing industries, helping to reduce the overall claims total.
Since early June, new claims have been fluctuating in a narrow range from 297,000 to 322,000. The claims total spiked upward briefly in early July during the automobile industry's annual summer shutdown but has settled back into its earlier range.
The jobless claims figures were close enough to expectations that financial markets were unmoved by the data.
The private Conference Board is scheduled to issue its report on July leading indicators at mid-morning and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's August business index is due at noon (1600 GMT), both of which are likely to provoke greater investor interest.
On Wednesday, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher said the United States appeared to be near full employment, though he noted that concept has become harder to measure in a more global economy where jobs and production can shift from country to country.
We have been running a significantly employed economy, Fisher told a Dallas real estate group, adding: I'm not sure what 'full employment' is, in a globalized world.
Anthony Chan, chief economist for J.P. Morgan Private Client Services in New York, cautioned that lower jobless claims did not necessarily mean that hiring was about to pick up.
It's encouraging that it confirms my view that the labor market remains fairly healthy, Chan said. But he added: We should not extrapolate these low claim numbers to mean that payrolls are going to surge. Fewer firings do not mean...more hirings.
The four-week moving average of initial jobless claims, considered a more reliable barometer of employment conditions because it irons out weekly fluctuations, rose to 311,250 in the August 12 week from a revised 309,500.
The number of workers remaining on state unemployment benefits for the week ended August 5, the latest period such figures were available, hit 2,507,000 up from 2,473,000 in the preceding week.