Updated March 25 at 6:25am

Jobless claims in U.S. plunged more than forecast last week


WASHINGTON – Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. plunged more than forecast last week unwinding a surge caused by the Easter holiday and spring break at schools.

Jobless claims decreased by 42,000 to 346,000 in the week ended April 6, from a revised 388,000, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a drop to 360,000. A Labor Department official said no states were estimated and there was nothing unusual in the data.

Holidays such as Easter that fall on different weeks from year to year make it difficult to smooth out swings in the data, leading to increased volatility, the Labor Department said as the numbers were released. Waning firings, a sign employers are retaining workers to meet sales, help lay the ground for a pickup in hiring after payroll gains slowed in March.

“It’s heartening that these numbers have come down,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts, who forecast a decrease to 345,000, the closest among economists surveyed. “The weakness may have been overstated. This is an early piece of evidence that we’ll see a bounce back in the April employment numbers.”

Stock-index futures were little changed after the report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in June was at 1,582.7 at 8:47 a.m. in New York, the same as yesterday’s close.

Cheaper imports

Another Labor Department report today showed the cost of goods imported into the U.S. decreased 0.5 percent in March, led by declining fuel costs.

Economists’ claims estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 335,000 to 380,000. The Labor Department revised the previous week’s figure up to 388,000, the highest since November in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, from an initially reported 385,000.

Last week’s plunge may ease concern that sequestration, the automatic federal government spending cuts that began taking effect on March 1, had contributed to the jump in claims.

The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, rose to 358,000 last week from 355,000.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits fell by 12,000 to 3.08 million in the week ended March 30.

The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.

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