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) -- The number of Americans filing unemployment claims for the first time rose less than expected last week according to a Labor Department report released early Thursday.

The advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims increased by 2,000 to 439,000 in the week ended Nov. 13, from the previous week's upwardly revised estimate of 437,000. Analysts were expecting initial claims to rise to 442,000,

after dropping to a two-year low of 435,000 in the previous week, according to consensus estimates from


The number of people filing continuing claims -- those who have been receiving unemployment insurance for at least a week -- came in lower than expected at 4.295 million for the week ended Nov. 6, a decrease of 48,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 4.343 million. Consensus estimates projected continuing claims to remain relatively steady at 4.30 million.


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The 4-week moving average in initial claims, which smoothes the volatility in week-to-week reports, was 443,000, a decrease of 4,000 from the previous week's revised average of 447,000. The 4-week moving average in continuing claims was 4.353 million, a decrease of 45,500 from the preceding week's average of 4.398 million.

Claims data are hovering near two-year lows, a sign that layoffs may be slowing and hiring picking up once again.

The economy added jobs in October for the first time since May, the Labor Department said in its employment situation report. Nonfarm payrolls rose by 151,000, more than the 60,000 economists were expecting.

The jobs report will be closely followed in the months to come by investors as the political climate changes and most certainly by the

Federal Reserve


The slow pace of job creation has been a major source of concern for the central bank as the U.S. economy struggles to make a strong recovery from the great recession. Economists say jobs need to grow at a pace of 100,000 to 120,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with population growth and at more than 200,000 jobs a month to signal a strong recovery. However, jobs growth has so far been anemic, with unemployment rates remaining stubbornly near the 10% level.

The unsustainably high unemployment rate was one reason the Fed cited for embarking on another round of quantitative easing. But the central bank has indicated that it might scale back its efforts if the economy and jobs show signs of making a more rapid recovery.

Still, few expect unemployment to fall dramatically in the next couple of months and the market is expecting the central bank to continue its easing effort until it does.

In the near term, extension of the federally funded extended benefit programs, due to expire by the end of November, is likely to be a key issue debated in Congress, something to watch in the next couple of weeks. About 4.7 million unemployed people now claim benefits under the program. Investors are concerned that an expiry of benefits will hurt holiday spending that is expected to boost retailers.

-- Written by Shanthi Venkataraman in New York.

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