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News Summary: US unemployment claims fall to 339K

APPLICATIONS TUMBLE: The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid plummeted last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000. It was the lowest level in more than four years.

VOLATILE WEEK: A Labor Department spokesman cautioned that weekly applications can be volatile at the start of the quarter and one large state accounted for much of the decline. Some economists questioned if the decline could be sustained.

HIRING REMAINS SLOW: Declining applications have typically pointed toward stronger hiring, but not so much since the Great Recession ended. While layoffs have slowed, many companies have said they lack confidence that the economy will strengthen enough in coming months to justify hiring now.