(Initial claims article updated for analyst commentary, additional information)



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

The advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims increased by 18,000 to 409,000 in the week ended Jan.1, from the previous week's revised estimate of 391,000. An increase in the claims figure was widely expected. Analysts were expecting initial claims to rise to 405,000, after dropping to 388,000 in the previous week, according to consensus estimates by



The number of Americans filing continuing claims -- those who have been receiving unemployment insurance for at least a week -- came in slightly higher than expected at 4.13 million for the week ended Dec. 25, a decrease of 47,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 4.15 million. Consensus estimates projected continuing claims to drop to 4.07 million from 4.12 million the previous week.

The four-week moving average in initial claims, which smoothes the volatility in week-to-week reports, was 410,750, a decrease of 3,500 from the previous week's revised average of 414,250. The four-week moving average in continuing claims was 4.12 million, a decrease of 2,750 from the preceding week's revised average of 4.125 million. The numbers do not include millions of those who claim benefits under the extended unemployment benefits program.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.3% for the week ending Dec.25, unchanged from the previous week.


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Economists are unlikely to put much store in a single week's rise in jobless claims. The 4-week moving average has been steadily trending downward, a sign that layoffs are beginning to slow. Initial claims should, however, continue to trend below 400,000 over the next several weeks for further proof of a bottoming in layoffs.

The market will in the coming weeks pay greater attention to continuing claims data. A significant decrease in continuing claims could point to a pickup in hiring.

"There has been a steady decline in new filings. But the reduction in continuing claims has not been significant enough to suggest that hiring is really robust," Patrick O'Keefe, director of economic research at audit, tax and advisory firm J.H. Cohn told


ahead of the claims data. "That said, we are down half a million

in continuing claims since Labor Day, which is not insignificant."

The market Thursday will be looking ahead to the Labor Department's December nonfarm payrolls report on Friday. The economy is expected to have added 150,000 jobs in December, according to consensus estimates from


, although further revisions to the estimate is likely in the run up to the report.

On Wednesday, ADP said in its National Employment Report that the private sector added a whopping 297,000 jobs. The market took note of the numbers, ticking higher, but was relatively subdued in its response as the ADP estimates have been known to diverge significantly from that of the Labor Department's.

-- Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York

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