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The number of Americans filing applications for jobless benefits fell less than expected last week while the four-week moving average of claims rose to its highest level since April, suggesting some loss of momentum in the labor market.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 231,000 for the week ended Dec. 1, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 225,000 in the latest week.
U.S. unit labor costs rebounded less than initially thought in the third quarter and the decline in the prior period was sharper than previously estimated, suggesting moderate growth in wage inflation.
Claims had risen for three straight weeks, touching an eight-month high of 235,000 during the week ended Nov. 24.
While difficulties adjusting the data around holidays such as Thanksgiving Day could have boosted applications, the trend in claims has softened. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 4,250 to 228,000 last week, the highest level since mid-April.
Some economists blame the rise on volatility in the financial markets, the fading stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut and the Trump administration's protectionist trade policy.
Though wage growth has picked up in recent months, the unit labor costs data suggests a burst in wage inflation is unlikely. There has not been a rapid increase in wages even as the unemployment rate has dropped to near a 49-year low of 3.7 percent.
The increase in hourly compensation in the third quarter was revised down to a 3.1 percent rate from the 3.5 percent rate reported last month.
Still, claims remain at levels consistent with strong job growth. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls likely increased by 200,000 jobs in November after surging by 250,000 in October. The unemployment rate is seen holding at near a 49-year low of 3.7 percent.
The Labor Department will publish November's employment report on Friday.
Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid decreased 74,000 to 1.63 million for the week ended Nov. 24. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims rose 250 to 1.67 million.