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Jobless Benefits Claims Hold Steady, Making Fed Rate Hike More Likely

WASHINGTON - Initial claims for state unemployment benefits were unchanged at a seasonally adjusted 276,000 for the week ended Nov. 7, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The prior week's claims were unrevised.

Claims are not too far from levels last seen in the early 1970s. They have now held below the 300,000 threshold for 36 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch in years. Claims below this level are usually associated with a healthy jobs market.

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"The trend in claims remains quite low and continues to point to steady labor market improvement," said Derek Lindsey, an analyst at BNP Paribas in New York.

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Prices for U.S. Treasury debt held steady at lower levels, while the dollar rose slightly against the euro after the data. U.S. stocks opened lower, with a potential Fed interest rate and oil prices cited as the main drivers of negative sentiment.

Labor market strength, marked by a surge in job growth in October and a jobless rate that is now in a range many Fed officials see as consistent with full employment, has bolstered expectations of a liftoff in the U.S. central bank's benchmark overnight interest rate at the Dec. 15-16 policy meeting.

The Fed has kept its short-term interest rate near zero since December 2008. Last month, nonfarm payrolls recorded their largest gain since December 2014 and the unemployment rate fell to a 7-1/2-year low of 5.0 percent.

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Economists polled by Reuters had expected claims to drop to 270,000 last week. A Labor Department analyst said there were no special factors influencing the data and no states had been estimated.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it strips out week-to-week volatility, rose 5,000 to 267,750 last week, still close to a 42-year low.

The claims report showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 5,000 to 2.17 million in the week ended Oct. 31. The four-week moving average of continuing claims edged up 2,250 to 2.17 million.