The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly fell 5,000 last week, government data showed on Thursday, while a more reliable barometer of labor trends fell to its lowest in more than a year.
Separately, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said that factory activity in the Philadelphia region remained weak for the ninth straight month in May. However, the survey made a larger-than-expected jump to 4.2 in May from 0.2 in April. The forecast had called for a 3.0 increase.
Initial filings for state unemployment insurance aid fell for the fifth straight week to the lowest level since mid-January, dropping to a seasonally adjusted 293,000 in the week ended May 12 from a revised 298,000 for the previous week, the Labor Department said.
A department analyst said there were no special factors behind the drop in new claims.
Analysts on Wall Street had expected claims, which provide a rough guide to the pace of layoffs, to rise to 310,000 from the 297,000 initially reported for the May 5 week.
A four-week moving average of claims, which smooths weekly volatility to provide a better sense of underlying job-market trends, fell for the third consecutive week, dropping to 305,500 from 317,500 in the prior week and to its lowest since April, 2006.
The total number of unemployed still on the benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid fell to 2.47 million in the week ended May 5, the latest period for which figures are available. Economists had forecast so-called continued claims at 2.53 million.
Separately, a closely watched gauge of future U.S. economic activity fell in April, nearly reversing the previous month's gain and easing concerns about whether the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates.
The Conference Board said Thursday its index of leading economic indicators dropped 0.5 percent, higher than the 0.1 decline analysts were expecting. The drop follows a revised 0.6 percent climb in March, which came after two months of declines.
The reading is designed to forecast economic activity over the next three to six months.
The reading tracks 10 economic indicators. Two of those readings were positive in April: stock prices and real money supply.
The negative contributors, beginning with the largest, were building permits, weekly unemployment claims, manufacturers' new orders for non-defense capital goods, consumer expectations, vendor performance, average weekly manufacturing hours and interest rate spread.
The 0.5 drop means the cumulative change in the index over the past six months has turned negative.