In the week ended April 14, applications for unemployment insurance payments decreased by 2,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 388,000, to 386,000, according to data from the Labor Department issued Thursday in Washington. The level of claims was above market expectations for a 370,000 reading.
The four-week moving average, which normally provides a better indication of the underlying trend in labor markets, was 374,750, an increase of 5,500 from the previous week's upwardly revised average of 369,250 for first-time benefit applicants.
We've gotten some weak data recently, Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh, said before the report and suggested he'll be a little worried if Thursday's report comes in above the 380,000 mark again.
U.S. employers hired a less-than-expected 120,000 workers in March, while the unemployment rate dropped to a cycle low of 8.2 percent on declining labor-force participation.
There are some temporary, one-time factors that caused some weakness in March, but I think the April report will be better, Faucher said, adding that he expects to see job growth of more than 200,000 a month over the rest of the year.
Strong job gains are important because they lead to income growth that supports consumer spending, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the U.S. economy.
The number of people filing for benefits after an initial week of aid increased by 26,000, to 3.30 million in the week ended April 7.
The continuing claims figure doesn't include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.
The four-week moving average for the week ended April 7 fell 21,500 to 3.32 million from the preceding week's revised average of 3.34 million.
In its World Economic Outlook published in advance of semiannual meetings, the IMF said it foresees the U.S. economy growing at 2.1 percent in 2012 and rising to 2.4 percent in 2013.
That is modestly higher than the growth rates of 1.8 percent and 2.2 percent respectively that the IMF had forecast in January.
The U.S. economy has gained some traction, with growth improving through 2011 and signs of expansion in the job market, the IMF said.
Home prices remain weak and the prospects for job creation this year and next are will be modest at best, the IMF noted.
Stock index futures gained Thursday. The S&P 500 futures rose 2.80 points and Dow Jones Industrial average futures added 26 points.