Jobless claims fall 27,000

Thursday, February 22, 2007; 9:05 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of U.S. workers filing for first-time jobless benefits fell a smaller-than-expected 27,000 last week, a government report showed on Thursday.

Initial jobless claims hit a seasonally adjusted 332,000 for the week ended February 17, the Labor Department said.

"It reversed the jump of last week and according to the Labor Department, the weather did not impact claims this week like last week, said Michelle Meyer, an economist for Lehman Brothers in New York.

"The labor market is still healthy and it is consistent with the view of the Federal Reserve being on hold," Meyer said.

The Fed has left its benchmark rate at 5.25 percent since June after raising it 17 straight times and many economists believe it could be on hold for some time.

The claims figures for the week ended February 10, upwardly revised to 359,000, had been affected by winter storms that shut down areas of the Midwest and Northeast.

Storms struck parts of the country again last week, but did not affect the week's claims data, a Labor Department analyst said.

Economists polled ahead of the report were expecting claims to fall to 325,000 in the latest week.

U.S. Treasuries were little changed following the release of the jobless claims data.

The four-week moving average of new claims, a more reliable measure of employment conditions because it irons out weekly volatility, rose for the third straight week and to the highest level in more than two months.

The four-week average rose to 328,000 from 326,750 in the previous week.

The number of workers continuing on unemployment benefits after drawing an initial week of aid, fell 45,000 to a seasonally adjusted 2.51 million in the week ended February 10, the most recent week these figures were available.

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