Christmas week saw a spike in the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits, Reuters reported Thursday. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 287,000 -- the highest total since July -- for the week that ended Dec. 26, U.S. Labor Department figures showed. The less precarious four-week average climbed 4,500 to 277,000.

While the data could have been affected by the holiday period, the sharp increase could indicate that the labor market is losing steam; economists had expected a total of 270,000, Investor’s Business Daily reported. However, the claims have remained at a four-decade low and below 300,000 for almost 10 months; anything lower often correlates with monthly job gains in excess of 200,000, USA Today reported.  



Economists have predicted a slower pace of job market improvement in 2016 even as the unemployment rate sinks below its current 5 percent, Reuters reported. Employers added 210,000 jobs a month in 2015. 

Futures for U.S. stock prices were largely unchanged following the report.