Unemployment continued to improve in the most recent week, but the durable goods sector hit an unexpected slowdown in November.
In separate reports Wednesday, the government said the number of jobless claims fell to 353,000 in the week ended Dec. 20, the lowest level in more than two years. It's also the twelfth consecutive week that claims have remained below 400,000, which is thought to be the dividing line between contraction and expansion in the labor market.
The consensus forecast of economists was for new claims totaling 355,000. Claims for the previous week were revised down to 354,000.
The unwelcome economic surprise Wednesday was a 3.1% decline in orders for durable goods. It is the biggest drop in more than a year, and defied expectations for a 1% increase. The decline was even more pronounced, because the government raised October's increase to 4%.
Economists have long considered the durable goods economic series to be volatile and subject to large revisions.