The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell for a third straight week last week, but still remain too volatile to offer a clear signal on labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's figure was revised to show 2,000 more applications than previously reported.
Last week's drop brought them back to their pre-superstorm Sandy's 360,000-370,000 range. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 380,0000 last week.
The four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labor market trends, rose 2,250 to 408,000, reflecting the impact of the late October storm. That was the highest level since October last year.
A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the state-level data, but noted claims tend to post their largest percentage increase in the last week of November, catching up from the Thanksgiving holiday.
In addition, seasonal layoffs in sectors like construction, start picking up this time of the year and remain elevated until early January. This will make claims a less useful gauge of labor market conditions in the weeks ahead.
The claims report has no bearing on Friday's employment data. Economists estimate the monster storm, which slammed the densely populated East Coast, could subtract between 25,000 and 75,000 jobs from November's nonfarm payrolls.
The closely watch employment report, which will be released on Friday, is expected to show payrolls increased only 93,000 last month after advancing 171,000 job in October, according to Reuters survey of economists. The unemployment rate is seen holding steady at 7.9 percent.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid dropped 100,000 to 3.21 million in the week ended Nov. 24.