US jobless claims fall, dollar supported

U.S. initial jobless claims declined more than expected last week, offering new signs that the labor market was gathering steam.

According to data from the US Labor Department, the number of workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell by a more-than-projected 21,000 to 283,000 in the week ended February 14. They were down from the previous week’s 304,000 claims. Economists had forecast jobless claims falling to 293,000 last week.

American consumer confidence has been improving in recent months as fuel prices plunged, firings abated and payroll gains accelerated, making it more likely spending will strengthen. Consumers will need to remain engaged to help the world’s largest economy overcome a slowdown in manufacturing, which is being held back by a rising dollar and sluggish growth overseas.

More employment opportunities are helping improve sentiment for the labor market. In fact, US nonfarm payrolls in January capped their best three months of growth in 17 years.

Jobs data are important and are closely watched by the Federal Reserve as they use such numbers in their decisions for monetary policy and when to make the first interest rate hike.

The jobless claims numbers helped support the dollar when the data was released on Thursday. USD/JPY hit a high of 119.18.

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