NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits in the first week of the fourth quarter saw a small improvement but remained above the 400,000 threshold. Some 404,000 American filed for initial jobless claims in the week ended Oct. 8. The reading was slightly lower than expectations for 405,000 filings. The most recent figure dropped by 1,000 from a revised 405,000 in the prior week.
The four-week moving average came in at 408,000, a drop of 7,000 from the previous week's revised average of 415,000. Claims have been volatile in recent weeks, which some economists attribute to disruptions from Hurricane Irene. BTIG Economics said in a research note that levels around 400,000 were "okay." The research firm noted, however, that claims usually drop to the 300,000 to 400,000 range two years out of a recession. For example, two years after a recession ended in 2001, claims hit 354,000. "With the expiration of extended unemployment compensation set to occur at the end of this year, it seems likely that the debate over 'jobs' isn't going away any time soon," said BTIG. High Frequency Economics also noted that "claims are not always a reliable indicator of net labor demand in the early stage of a downturn because companies' first response to softening demand usually is to slow or freeze the pace of hiring rather than to increase the pace of layoffs." Also out this morning was a reading on the U.S. trade deficit, which came in at $45.6 billion in August, according to the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis. The trade deficit was expected to widen to $45.8 billion from the prior month's original reading of $44.8 billion, according to Thomson Reuters estimates. However, the July trade gap was upwardly revised to $45.6 billion meaning that the trade deficit was little changed. Both exports and imports have decreased in recent months. "With the dollar very weak, the softening in demand for U.S. exports is a reflection of slower growth in overseas markets," says High Frequency Economics. -- Written by Chao Deng in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Chao Deng. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to: @chao_deng >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.