WASHINGTON (

TheStreet

) -- As if this almost senselessly robust market needed any more good news to fuel its fire, the government announced Thursday that the number of newly laid-off U.S. workers seeking unemployment insurance fell last week.

The Labor Department said that initial claims for jobless benefits dropped to a seasonally adjusted 550,000 for the week ending Aug. 1, down from an upwardly revised figure of 588,000 in the previous week.

That figure is significantly lower than analysts' estimates of 580,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out fluctuations, dropped to 555,250, its lowest level since late January.

The tally of those continuing to claim benefits rose, however, by 69,000 to 6.3 million, the department said, after dropping for three straight weeks. The continuing claims data lag initial claims by a week.

Less than an hour prior to the start of Thursday trading, US stock futures were opinting toward a positive open. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were 43 points higher at 9288.

-- Reported by Ty Wenger in New York.

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