The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, pointing to an improving labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped by 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 297,000 for the week ended Nov. 29, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
The decline almost reversed the prior week's increase which had pushed claims above 300,000 for the first time since early September. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 295,000 last week.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, increased by 4,750 to 299,0000. It has held below 300,000 for 12 straight weeks, indicating labor market strength.
A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data. The data has no relevance to November's employment report, which is scheduled to be released on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period.
Nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 230,000 last month after rising by 214,000 in October, according to a Reuters survey of economists. November would mark the 10th consecutive month of payroll gains above 200,000.
The unemployment rate is forecast steady at a six-year low of 5.8 percent.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased by 39,000 to 2.36 million in the week ended Nov. 22. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)