By John S. McClenahen Initial claims for unemployment insurance, a closely watched indicator of U.S. labor market conditions, declined again last week. Initial claims totaled 342,000 for the week ending Jan. 24, some 1,000 fewer than the revised figure of 343,000 claims for the previous week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Jan. 29. The figure was in line with the consensus prediction of economists. The department's four-week moving average, which smoothes out week-to-week fluctuations in the level of claims, posted a small increase last week. It was up 750 to 346,000. "The level of claims is down about 90,000, or 20%, from the mid-2003 high," notes UBS Investment Research, New York. "Claims are still not low enough to signal brisk hiring. But they continue to suggest more strength in jobs than [do] the monthly payroll data."