US unemployment claims drop
New US claims for unemployment insurance benefits fell last week, fresh evidence of a modestly tightening jobs market, Labor Department data showed on Thursday.
Initial jobless claims totalled 304,000 in the week ending July 5, down 11,000 from the prior week's number.
The decline in claims, reflecting the pace of lay-offs, was larger than analysts expected, with the consensus estimate of a level of 311,000.
The four-week moving average fell to 311,500.
The data showed solid improvement from a year ago, when the four-week moving average was at 348,500.
The labor market in the first half of the year has been the strongest since the 2008-2009 great recession, with an average of 231,000 net new jobs added each month since January.
That has helped pull the unemployment rate down much faster than predicted. At 6.1 per cent in June, the rate was down 1.4 points from a year ago.
"The claims data remain extremely encouraging," chief US economist at High Frequency Economics Jim O'Sullivan said in a research note.
"The decline helps corroborate the pick-up in payrolls to 231,000 per month so far this year from 194,000 last year; that is clearly much more than enough to keep unemployment trending down."