The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits rose last week to 354,000, a sharp increase of 18,000, which was much more than the number that analysts were expecting, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S expected, on average, claims for the seven days ended Saturday to rise to 340,000, just  above the previous week's seasonally adjusted figure of 334,000.

For the seven days ended June 15, the four-week moving average was 348,750, an increase of 2,500 from the previous week's unrevised average of 345,750. By comparison, during the comparable week last year there were 386,000 first-time claims filed.