Applications for jobless benefits in the U.S. fell unexpectedly for the week ended Dec. 18, posting a decline for three consecutive weeks.

Initial jobless claims in the U.S. fell 3,000 to 420,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Markets had expected the claimant count to rise by 4,000 to 424,000 from 420,000 in the previous week.

However, the seasonally adjusted 4-week moving average of initial claims -- considered as a more accurate measure of employment trends than the weekly number -- increased by 2,500 to 426,000.

The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits decreased by 0.1 percent to 3.2 percent in the week ended Dec. 4.

Kentucky witnessed the largest increase in claims during the week, with an additional 1,680 people filing for unemployment benefits.

Overall, the number of people receiving jobless allowance from state and federal governments stood at 8.88 million in the week ended Dec. 4, down 308,338 from the prior week.