National

Mar 27, 2014 8:41 AM by Bob Grotenhuis

Encouraging Economic Reports

WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 311,000, the lowest since late November and a hopeful sign hiring could pick up.

The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell 9,500 to 317,750. That is the fourth straight drop and the lowest level in six months. It brings applications in line with pre-recession levels.

The sustained decline suggests companies are confident enough about future growth to keep their staffs. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Greater business confidence can also lead to more hiring.

Also, the U.S. economy grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the October-December quarter, slightly more than previously estimated, as consumer spending rose at the fastest pace in three years.

The Commerce Department says the fourth-quarter growth rate was a bit stronger than its 2.4 percent estimate made last month. The revision reflected stronger consumer spending, which rose at an annual rate of 3.3 percent - its best quarterly pace since 2010.

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