) -- The number of Americans filing for first time unemployment benefits fell according to a Labor Department report.
Initial jobless claims dropped 4,000 to 364,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ended Dec. 17 from a revised 368,000 in the previous week.
Economists expected to see claims rise to 375,000 from an originally reported 366,000, according to Thomson Reuters.
The four-week moving average declined by 8,000 to 380,250 from the previous week's revised average of 388,250.
According the David Semmens, economist with Standard Chartered Bank, initial claims have now dropped to the lowest level since April 2008.
"This continues to reinforce our opinion that the labor market is on the mend, but there is still a significant pick up in hiring needed to make any dent in the unemployment rate," he wrote in a note. "We continue to expect labor demand to stay around the level to keep unemployment relatively constant,
around 150,000 new jobs per month during 2012, but there is still plenty of scope for upgrading those working part-time closer to full time."
-- Written by Ross Tucker in New York.
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