The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, but the continued impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on the data made it difficult to get a clear picture of the labor market.
Other data on Thursday pointed to underlying economic strength despite the weather-related disruptions. The trade deficit narrowed in August as exports of goods and services rose to more than a 2-1/2-year high, tempering expectations of a sharp slowdown in third-quarter gross domestic product growth due to the storms.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000 for the week ended Sept. 30, the Labor Department said.
Harvey and Irma along with Hurricane Maria affected claims for Texas, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, a Labor Department official said. Economists had forecast claims falling to 265,000 in the latest week.
Claims shot up from a low of 236,000 in late August, hitting 298,000 at the start of September. As a result, Harvey and Irma are expected to cut into job growth in September.
According to a Reuters survey of economists, the Labor Department's closely watched employment report on Friday will likely show that nonfarm payrolls increased by 90,000 jobs last month after rising by 156,000 in August.
The labor market disruptions are expected to be temporary, with the job market generally remaining strong.
Claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a robust labor market, for 135 consecutive weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.