At the labor market the number of U.S. workers claiming for jobless benefits decreased more than economists expected last week.
Total claims lasting more than one week, meanwhile, also declined.
Initial claims for jobless benefits fell by 33,000 to 521,000 in the week ended Oct. 3, the U.S. Labor Department said in its weekly report. The last time initial claims were this low was on January 3. The previous week's level was revised from 551,000 to 554,000.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected a decrease of only 11,000.
The four-week moving average of new claims, which aims to smooth volatility in the data, also fell by 9,000 to 539,750 from the previous week's revised figure of 548,750. The last time the four-week moving average was this low was on January 17, MarketWatch reports.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Ian Shepherdson, chief domestic economist for High Frequency Economics, as saying, "The level of claims is still far too high, for sure, and it is certainly consistent with further declines in payrolls, but it is heading in the right direction."
Including federal programs, the number of people claiming benefits of any kind in the week ended Sept. 19 was 9.36 million, not seasonally adjusted, down from 9.42 million in the previous week.
"The less-weak reading in the labor market, while welcome, needs to be taken in the context that nearly 10 million people are filing for unemployment benefits," wrote Dan Greenhaus, economic strategist for Miller Tabak & Co.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had been looking for first-time claims to fall to about 540,000. The level of initial claims in the week ended Sept. 26 was revised up by 3,000 to 554,000. See Economic Calendar , The Wall Street Journal reports.
In the meantime, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that even if the economy maintained a 3 percent growth rate for several quarters, unemployment would still be above 9 percent by the end of 2010.
More job cuts were announced this week. Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., which makes industrial and scientific equipment, said it will close a plant in Dubuque, Iowa, next year, costing 350 jobs, The Associated Press reports.