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March 27, 2014 8:35 AM, EDT
Jobless Claims Decline to Four-Month Low

Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits declined last week to an almost four-month low, a sign companies are confident in the outlook for demand.

Jobless claims decreased by 10,000 to 311,000 in the period ended March 22, Labor Department data showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 323,000 claims. The four-week average of applications filed with state agencies dropped to the lowest level since September.

A slower pace of firings helps give employers room to add staff when sales pick up after harsher winter weather weighed on first-quarter growth.

“It seems to be genuinely good news for the labor market,” said Guy Berger, a U.S. economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Conn., who projected a decline in claims. “In all likelihood, employment growth in March is going to be stronger than what we’ve seen in the last three months, and this claims data is consistent with that.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 295,000 to 335,000 after a previously reported 320,000 in the prior week.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, fell to 311,750, the lowest since Sept. 28, from 327,250 in the prior week.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 53,000 to 2.82 million in the week ended March 15, the lowest since Dec. 21. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 2.2% in the same period.