U.S. jobless claims sink for second straight week after a steep increase in early December

MarketWatch.- The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell for the second week after a big spike earlier in December.

Initial jobless claims fell by 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 in the week ended Dec. 21, the government said Thursday.

Economists polled by MarketWatch estimated new claims would total 220,000 in the week. Claims are a rough measure of how many people are losing their jobs.

The more stable monthly average of new claims, meanwhile, rose by 2,250 to 228,000 to the highest level since mid-February.

The number of people already collecting unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, decreased by 6,000 to 1.72 million in the week ended Dec. 14.

What happened: Claims had jumped 49,000 to 252,000 in the first week of December but have now declined for two weeks. Claims fell a revised 17,000 in the week ended Dec. 14.

Jobless claims often gyrate during the long holiday season at the end of each year. Economists said the data won’t give an accurate signal about labor-market conditions until late January.

Big picture: Economists don’t think the rise in the 4-week average this month is a sign of cracks in the wall of a strong labor market, but they are watching the data closely. For now, broader readings of labor market conditions remain quite positive.

Market reaction: Stocks SPX, -0.02% were set to open higher on Thursday, continuing the upward trend this month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.13% is up 1.65% so far this month as Federal Reserve interest-rate cuts have eased recession fears.

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