U.S. jobless claims rebounded last week from four-decade low

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(Bloomberg) — Applications for U.S. jobless benefits rebounded last week from a 44-year low, returning to a range that still shows strength in the labor market.

Jobless claims rose by 20,000 to 243,000 in the week ended March 4, a report from the Labor Department showed Thursday. The figures, which are in line with this year’s average, are a mirror image of the previous week, when filings fell by 19,000 to 223,000.

The latest results are consistent with a trend of historically low claims that signal a tightening labor market, a picture likely to be reinforced by the monthly payrolls report on Friday. Companies, stretching to find more skilled and experienced personnel, are holding on to existing employees and maintaining a steady pace of hiring.

The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 238,000 claims last week. Economists’ estimates ranged from 230,000 to 255,000.

No states estimated the number of applications last week, and there was nothing unusual in the figures, according to the Labor Department.

The four-week moving average increased to 236,500 last week from 234,250.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits fell by 6,000 to 2.06 million in the week ended Feb. 25. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.5%. These data are reported with a one-week lag.

The latest tally marked 105 straight weeks of claims below 300,000, the level economists consider consistent with a healthy labor market. The 161-week period that ended in April 1970 was the longest such streak in records back to 1967.

A separate report from the Labor Department showed import prices picked up in February from a year earlier, rising 4.6%, the most in five years. Compared with the prior month, they rose 0.2% after a 0.6 percent advance as energy costs cooled.

Import costs excluding fuels increased 0.5% from February last year, the largest 12-month advance since August 2014. The pickup reflects higher prices for non-energy industrial supplies, which posted the largest year-over-year advance since December 2011.

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