The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell as expected last week, suggesting a strengthening in job gains in August after a slight pullback the prior month.
Meanwhile, the U.S. economy accelerated more quickly than expected in the second quarter thanks to a surge in exports, bolstering the case for the Federal Reserve to wind down a major economic stimulus program.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected first-time applications to fall to 332,000 last week. A Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated and there was nothing unusual in the state-level data.
The four-week moving average for new claims, which irons out week-to-week volatility, ticked up 750 to 331,250, still holding at a level economists associate with a strengthening labor market.
Initial claims have not strayed too far from the 330,000 level since mid-July, bolstering expectations of an acceleration in the pace of employment gains in August.
Hiring moderated a bit in July and a pickup this month could cement expectations the Federal Reserve will announce a scaling back of its monthly $85 billion bond-buying program at its Sept. 17-18 policy meeting. It has been making the monthly purchases to hold down interest rates.
The U.S. central bank has said it plans to start tapering the purchases later this year, but would be guided by economic data. July data on home building, industrial production and durable goods orders have missed market expectations, which economists say would only affect the size of cutbacks.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 14,000 to 2.99 million in the week ended Aug. 17.