updated 4/22/2004 9:40:27 AM ET 2004-04-22T13:40:27

Fewer people signed up for jobless benefits last week, a sign that companies are feeling less inclined to slash their work forces now that the economy is rebounding.

Major Market Indices

The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance dropped by a seasonally adjusted 9,000 to 353,000 for the week ending April 17. The decline, which came after new applications rose sharply in the previous week, left claims at a level that was higher than the 340,000 analysts were expecting.

Still, the overall trend in new jobless claims filings has been a slow drift downward. Claims hit a high last year of 444,000 in the middle of April. This year, new filings for jobless benefits each week have managed to stay under 400,000, a sign that the jobs market is getting better, economists say.

In a second report from the department, wholesale prices rose by 0.5 percent in March, up from February’s 0.1 percent increase. Much of last month’s increase reflected higher costs for food products, which jumped by 1.5 percent, and for energy, including gasoline, which went up by 0.6 percent.

With the economy gaining momentum, some companies are finding it easier to raise prices. But Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on Wednesday said that inflation remains low and isn’t a problem for the economy now.

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