Jobless Claims in U.S. Nose Out Estimates

New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits gained slightly more than expected last week, but the number of Americans on unemployment rolls still dropped to a 17-year low, pointing to a tightening labour market.

Figures released Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 10,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 244,000 for the week ended April 15, after three straight weeks of declines.

Claims have now remained below 300,000, a threshold associated with a healthy labour market south of the border, for 111 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labour market was smaller. The labour market is close to full employment, with the unemployment rate at a near 10-year low of 4.5%

Economists had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 242,000 last week.

The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out weekly volatility and is thus considered a better measure of labour market trends, fell 4,250 to 243,000 last week.