(U.S. weekly jobless claims data updated with additional detail.)

WASHINGTON (

TheStreet

) -- The number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 3,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 420,000, the Labor Department said early Thursday. The figure compares to a downwardly revised rate of 423,000 in the prior week.

The figure was expected to edge up to 424,000 for the week ended Dec. 18, according to consensus estimates listed on

Briefing.com

.

The number of people receiving continuing benefits fell to a two-year low at 4.06 million, from 4.17 million in the prior week, a promising sign that the labor market is improving. The figure was expected to have fallen to just 4.1 million.

The four-week moving average, which strips out some of the week-to-week volatility, edged up to 426,000, from 423,500.

The major indexes were lower in premarket trading ahead of the report. The

SPDR S&P 500

(SPY) - Get Report

, an exchange-traded fund that tracks the S&P 500, traded down 0.1% ahead of the opening bell Thursday. The

SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average

(DIA) - Get Report

ETF lost 0.2% and the

PowerShares QQQ Trust

(QQQQ)

fell 0.3%.

Stock futures were lower in premarket trading ahead of the report. The

SPDR S&P 500

(SPY) - Get Report

, an exchange-traded fund that tracks the S&P 500, traded down 0.1% ahead of the opening bell Thursday. The

SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average

(DIA) - Get Report

ETF lost 0.1% and the

PowerShares QQQ Trust

(QQQQ)

fell 0.2%.

-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Miriam Reimer

.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to

@miriamsmarket

.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to:

tips@thestreet.com

.

READERS ALSO LIKE:

>> 14 REITs Increasing Dividends Annually

>> 18 Overbought Stocks to Sell Now

>> Bankruptcy Watch: 20 Riskiest Restaurant Stocks

>>See our new stock quote page.

Get more stock ideas and investing advice on our sister site,

Stockpickr.com.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.