The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week, pointing to a fairly robust labor market.
Other data on Thursday showed a slight pick-up in factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region in November after two straight months of declines, in a hopeful sign for the struggling manufacturing sector.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 271,000 for the week ended Nov. 14, the Labor Department said.
"This is yet another report pointing to the improvement in labor market conditions that the Federal Reserve wants to see," said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.
Claims have now held below the 300,000 threshold for 37 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch in years, and are not too far from levels last seen in the early 1970s. Claims below this level are usually associated with a healthy jobs market.
Last week's drop in claims was in line with economists' expectations. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing the data and only claims for Louisiana had been estimated.
The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it strips out week-to-week volatility, rose 3,000 to 270,750 last week, still close to a 42-year low.
U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.
The claims data covered the survey period for the nonfarm payrolls portion of the November employment report. The four- week average of claims rose 7,500 between the October and November surveys, suggesting a pullback in job growth from October's robust 271,000 gain.
Economists expect payrolls will increase by at least 200,000 in November, which will give the Federal Reserve confidence to raise its short-term interest rate at the Dec. 15-16 meeting.
The labor market has remained resilient despite faltering global growth. At 5 percent, the unemployment rate is in territory that many Fed officials see as consistent with full employment and the share of job seekers per open position is the lowest since 2007.
Minutes of the Fed policy-setting committee's Oct. 27-28 meeting published on Wednesday showed officials rallied behind a possible December increase in the U.S. central bank's benchmark overnight interest rate.
Diminishing labor market slack is also highlighted by the shrinking ranks of the long-term unemployed.
The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 2,000 to 2.18 million in the week ended Nov. 7.
In a separate report, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve said its general activity index rose to 1.9 this month from -4.5 in October. It was the first positive reading in three months. Measures for new orders and shipments increased seven points and four points, respectively.
However, both gauges remained negative, suggesting continued weakness in manufacturing, which had been slammed by a strong dollar, spending cuts by energy firms and efforts by businesses to whittle down an inventory overhang.
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