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) -- Initial jobless claims data showed a sharp drop in first-time applicants for state unemployment benefits last week, reversing a trend showing increases in recent weeks.

Initial jobless claims fell by 43,000 for the week ended Feb. 6, to come to a seasonally adjusted 440,000, according to a Labor Department report released Thursday. Analysts had forecast initial claims to fall by a less steep pace to 465,000, according to consensus figures provided by Claims totals for the prior week were revised slightly higher to 483,000 from 480,000.

Last week's larger-than-expected uptick was blamed on a holiday season backlog of claims. A Labor Department official cautioned that this most recent report reflects a normalization of claims after the backlog was "washed out," according to



The four-week moving average, which tends to iron-out potentially wild fluctuations, also decreased marginally to 468,500 from 469,500.

The number of those continuing on jobless benefit rolls also slid to 4.54 million for the week ended Jan. 30, down 79,000 from 4.62 million.

Last Friday, the government offered a mixed assessment of the unemployment picture. Labor Department statisticians said

the unemployment rate fell to 9.7% in January, though an additional 20,000 jobs were dropped from nonfarm payrolls.

While statistics may show layoffs ebbing compared to last year's steep month-to-month losses, job cut announcements continue to bubble up.

Boston Scientific

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announced plans Wednesday to cut up to 10% of its workforce. Earlier,


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said it may furlough about 300 pilots if a cost-cutting agreement could not be met. Both


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also made job cut announcements at the end of January.

-- Written by Sung Moss in New York