The Department of Labor said that first-time unemployment claims for the week ended April 27 totaled 324,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis, declining 18,000 from 342,000 the previous week. This was the lowest initial jobless claims number in over five years. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters had expected new unemployment claims to come in at 345,000.

Another report of an improving employment picture in the United States came from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, which said that layoffs declined to 38,121 in April, which was the lowest number of job cuts since December. During March, there were 49,255 layoffs. Then again, the firm also said that layoffs from financial firms increased, with 34,856 jobs lost during the first four months of 2013, compared to 12,860 a year earlier.

The KBW Bank Index ( I:BKX) was up 1% to close at 56.44, with all but two of the 24 index components showing gains for the session.

Good News for Bank of America

Shares of Bank of America ( BAC) rose slightly to close at $12.19, after Law 360 reported that several investors had dropped their objections to the bank's $8.5 billion proposed settlement in June 2011 of mortgage putback claims related to loans originally securitized by Countrywide Financial.

Bank of America acquired Countrywide in 2008. Law 360 reported that investors dropping their objections to the June 2011 proposed settlement this week included the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco on Wednesday, "joining several state and union pension funds that bowed out the day before."

Bank of America set aside the cash for the settlement in the second quarter of 2011, along with an additional $5.5 billion for other mortgage repurchase claims.

-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

>Contact by Email.

Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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