U.S. jobless claims rise but trend hints at quicker hiring

Initial state unemployment benefit claims increase to 336,000

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week but held close to a six-year low and gave a positive signal for hiring during the month.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits climbed 13,000 to 336,000, just above the level expected by economists in a Reuters poll, U.S. Labor Department data showed on August 22.

Despite the increase, the four-week moving average for claims, a better gauge for labour market trends, fell to its lowest level since November 2007, suggesting the economy was growing enough to fuel steady improvement in the labour market.

"The general point is that claims have fallen in the second half of the year," said Gus Faucher, an economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh. "We are looking at moderate job growth."

The data appeared to have little impact on Wall Street. U.S. stock index futures rose after upbeat economic data was released for Europe and China.

The claims data was collected during the same week the U.S. Labor Department surveys employers for its monthly employment report, and the trend hinted that hiring may pick up during August.

At 330,500, the four-week average was about five per cent lower than it was during the employment report's survey week in July, when employers added a lackluster 162,000 jobs to payrolls.

A U.S. Labor Department analyst said no states had been estimated and there was nothing unusual in the state-level data.

The Federal Reserve is closely monitoring the labour market as it mulls plans to draw down a major economic stimulus program in which it buys long term bonds to keep borrowing costs low.

The U.S. central bank has said it plans to start scaling back on the program this year, and many economists expect the Fed will begin reducing monthly bond purchases next month.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid rose 29,000 to about three million in the week ended Aug 10.

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