U.S. jobless claims rise to near three-month high

- The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose to near a three-month high last week, but remained below a level associated with a strong labor

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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 for the week ended Oct. 29, the highest level since early August, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were unrevised.

It was the 87th consecutive week that claims remained below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labor market.

That is the longest stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits would be unchanged at 258,000 in the latest week.

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The Federal Reserve on Wednesday left interest rates steady but said its monetary policy-setting committee "judges that the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has continued to strengthen."

The U.S. central bank is widely expected to increase its overnight benchmark interest rate in December, but the decision could depend on the outcome of the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

The tightening of the race between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump has rattled financial markets. The Fed raised borrowing costs last December for the first time in nearly a decade.

On Wednesday, the central bank offered a fairly upbeat assessment of the labor market, inflation and the broader economy.

A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's data and that no states had been estimated. There was a surge last week in the unadjusted claims for Kentucky, California and Missouri.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, increased 4,750 to 257,750 last week.

The report has no bearing on October's employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased 175,000 last month after rising 151,000 in September.

The unemployment rate is seen slipping one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.9 percent.

Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid declined 14,000 to 2.03 million in the week ended Oct. 22, the lowest reading since June 2000.

The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims fell 9,000 to 2.04 million. That was the lowest level since July 2000.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)