WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans claiming new unemployment benefits dropped to a four-year low last week, bolstering hopes a recent pick-up in job growth will prove lasting.
Initial claims for state jobless benefits fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the lowest level since February 2008, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 354,000 last week.
A separate report showed a gauge aimed at predicting future U.S. economic activity rose sharply in February, pointing to strengthening growth. The data suggests a firming of U.S. economic activity even as China slows and the euro zone slumps.
"Although there is some indigestion, courtesy of China and continued economic and financial market challenges in Europe, domestically things here still support moderate economic growth," said Michael Strauss, chief economist at Commonfund in Wilton, Connecticut.
A four-week moving average of new claims, a better measure of trends, declined 1,250 to 355,000. The data covered the survey week for the government's report on March employment. New claims dropped 5,000 between the February and March survey periods, suggesting another month of solid job growth.
Employers added 227,000 jobs to their payrolls in February, taking the tally for the past three months to 734,000. While the unemployment rate held at 8.3 percent, it has come down 0.8 percentage point since August.
The data on Thursday had little impact on U.S. financial markets as investors worried about the global economy. Other reports showed Chinese manufacturing contracted for a fifth straight month in March, while factory activity in France and Germany declined sharply.
BETTER FORTUNES FOR U.S.
In contrast, U.S. manufacturing activity continues to expand, thanks to stepped-up motor vehicle production, which has led factories to add more workers and extra shifts.
And even the housing market, a major source of pain for the economy, is improving. Home prices...
Full article: Jobless claims at 4-year low, lift recovery hopes
Mar 22 2012 submitted by Linda Cruz