The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell faster than expected last week, extending a three-week decline, government data showed Thursday.
Claims for the week to Sept. 4 fell to 451,000, down 27,000 from the previous week's revised figure, the Labor Department said.
The latest figure was better than most economists' expectations of 470,000 new claims, sparking optimism that recent negative trends were just a blip on the road to recovery. But that optimism was tempered with caution and few economists were ready to declare victory.
"If we stay at 450,000 or go even lower, that would be a hopeful sign," said Stephen Stanley of Pierpont Securities. "If we rebound back to 475,000, we're no worse off than we thought we were two weeks ago."
Experts also fretted whether the data was distorted by a recent U.S. public holiday.
"The Labor Day holiday means we need to see the revisions next week before coming to any firmer conclusions at this point," said Michael Gapen of Barclays Capital.
The number of people claiming unemployment benefits was largely unchanged at 4,478,000, a decrease of 2,000 people.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010