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Jobless Line Shrinks in Upbeat Sign for Labor Market

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, in a boost to the labor market outlook and the broader economy.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Claims for the prior week were revised to show 3,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits falling to 335,000 in the week ended Feb. 1.

The four-week moving average for new claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market conditions as it irons out week-to-week volatility, nudged up 250 to 334,000.

Separately, U.S. nonfarm productivity rose more than expected in the fourth quarter, mirroring the economy's sturdy growth pace, but weak unit labor costs pointed to subdued wage inflation.

Productivity rose at a 3.2 percent annual rate after increasing at a 3.6 percent pace in the third quarter, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, rising at a 2.5 percent rate in the last three months of 2013.

-- Reuters