US weekly jobless claims total 265,000 vs 268,000 estimate

Initial jobless claims up 7,000 to 265,000
Initial jobless claims up 7,000 to 265,000   

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose from a five-month low last week, but remained below a level associated with a strengthening labor market.

A separate report on regional business activity in the Philadelphia region showed surprising improvement.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 for the week ended March 12, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's claims were revised to show 1,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 268,000 in the latest week. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing last week's claims data and no states had been estimated.

Claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with healthy labor market conditions, for 54 weeks, the longest stretch since 1973.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, edged up 750 to 268,000 last week.

The claims data covered the survey period for March nonfarm payrolls. The four-week average of claims fell 5,250 between the February and March survey periods, suggesting further payrolls gains. The labor market added 242,000 jobs in February.

Labor market resilience has helped to ease fears the economy is heading into recession, which triggered a recent sharp stock market sell-off and subsequent tightening in financial market conditions. That could keep the Federal Reserve on course to gradually raise interest rates this year.

The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 8,000 to 2.24 million in the week ended March 5. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims fell 9,250 to 2.24 million.

Philly Fed business activity index goes positive

A reading on business activity in the Philadelphia region unexpectedly turned positive in March.

The business activity index for the month came in at 12.4, compared with -2.8 a month earlier and the -2.0 reading expected.

CNBC contributed to this report.