NEW YORK (Reuters) - New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits fell as expected last week, with the four-week moving average dropping to it lowest level in more than 2-1/2 years, showing the labor market healing was becoming entrenched.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 382,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
The four-week moving average of unemployment claims dropped 1,500 to 385,250, the lowest since mid-July 2008 and holding below the 400,000 level for a fourth straight week.
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 2,000 to 3.72 million in the week ended March 12, the lowest level since September 2008.
The continuing claims data covered the week for the household survey from which the unemployment rate is derived.
The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits rose 85,712 to 3.63 million in the week ended March 5, the latest week for which data is available. A total of 8.77 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs.
In other data Thursday, new orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods unexpectedly fell in February after a strong showing in January, hinting at decelerating manufacturing activity.
The Commerce Department said durable goods orders fell 0.9 percent after an upwardly revised 3.6 percent increase in January.
Excluding transportation, durable goods orders fell 0.6 percent after a revised 3.0 percent fall in January.
Non-defense capital goods order excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending fell 1.3 percent in February after a 6.0 percent fall the prior month.
RUDY NARVAS, SENIOR ECONOMIST, SOCIETE GENERALE, NEW YORK:
"(Jobless claims) continue to suggest that the labor market is improving, you are still under the 400,000 mark. The Labor Department didn't say there was anything unusual about the data so you can't really discount anything as a one-time event. It continues to be a promising sign.
"Durables were extremely disappointing, well below market expectations, especially the core capital goods. I think we have to look further into the data and find out what happened but it is not a very good sign for what is happening in the first quarter."
TOM SIMONS, MONEY MARKET ECONOMIST, JEFFERIES & CO., NEW
DURABLE GOODS: "This data is always volatile--there's a drop this month but we did get a nine tenths revision upward for last month. So I think that the more important way to look at it is the overall trends. Ex-defense orders are up overall 0.4 percent. Defense is probably going to be a drag going forward for a long time now because with the spending cuts and budget concerns, things aren't going to be good for defense spending."
DAN COOK, SENIOR MARKET ANALYST AT IG MARKETS IN CHICAGO:
"Obviously not good news. We should see a bit of pressure today. Actually, I'm surprised we're not seeing more pressure as there's not a lot of bullish sentiment.
"We've started hitting these ranges in jobless claims. Before we were stuck around 400,000, now we're in the upper 300,000's. We need to see it come down further. When the number is stalled, it doesn't do anything for anyone, even if it is better than expected. And no matter how you cut it this is still an ugly number. The labor market remains weak."
VIMOMBI NSHOM, ECONOMIST, IFR ECONOMICS, A UNIT OF THOMSON
"Today's (jobless claims) report reflects the second week of decline after claims had corrected up above the 400,000 level reported the first week of March. Combining these two past weeks of modest reductions (5,000 this week and 14,000 during the last) claims average have fallen 10,000) -- a rate of improvement that is steady and convincing of general labor market advancements."
DAVID SLOAN, ECONOMIST, IFR ECONOMICS, A UNIT OF THOMSON
"February durable goods orders with a decline of 0.9 percent, and a second straight fall (by 0.6 percent) ex transport, again contradicted positive signals in manufacturing surveys such as the ISM's. A disappointing report even when it is noted the fall was fully explained by a reversal in defense, with ex defense orders up by 0.4 percent."