) -- The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims dropped slightly last week, the Labor Department said early Thursday.

The advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims decreased by 5,000 to 382,000 in the week ended Mar. 19 from an upwardly revised 387,000 in the previous week. That was slightly better than expectations. Economists were expecting initial claims to drop to 384,000, from the originally reported figure of 385,000, according to consensus estimates from


The number of Americans filing continuing claims -- those who have been receiving unemployment insurance for at least a week -- was more or less in line with expectations at 3.721 million for the week ended Mar. 12 a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 3.755 million. Economists expected continuing claims to come in at 3.7 million.

The four-week moving average in initial claims, which smoothes the volatility in week-to-week reports, was 385,250, a decrease of 1,500 from the previous week's revised average of 386,750. The four-week moving average in continuing claims was 3.755 million, a decrease of 28,000 from the previous week revised average of 3.783 million.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3% for the week ending Mar 12, unchanged from the previous week.

Futures were rising in premarket trading following the report. The

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was up 0.5%, the


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and the

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were rising about 0.7% each.

Claims data has come in below 400,000 for five straight weeks, which has been a positive sign that layoffs have slowed down.

Market attention is now shifting to hiring trends. February jobs data showed a strong rebound from January's weak report but investors would like to see the job addition of 200,000 plus sustained in the coming months.

-- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York

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