The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for state jobless benefits fell sharply latest week to the lowest level since January as many auto layoffs were postponed, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The number of initial claims in the week ending July 11 fell 47,000 to 522,000, a lower than forecast amount. The number of people collecting unemployment insurance plunged by a record 642,000.

A Labor Department analyst warned that the latest drops should not be interpreted as a sign that the outlook in the job market is improving.

This big drop is not necessarily an indication of what is going on economically, the analyst said, adding that the seasonally adjusted numbers are really clouded by the timing of the layoffs in the automobile industry and other manufacturing sectors, the Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the analyst, data within a week or two would better indicate the true state of the labor market.