WASHINGTON — The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell last week to near a four-year low but an unusual pattern for summer factory shutdowns kept hopes in check that the weak labor market was improving. Other data on Thursday showed new orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods rose in June although a gauge of planned business spending plans dropped, pointing to a slowdown in factory activity.
A third report showed contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes unexpectedly fell in June, a worrisome sign for the housing market.
The labor market has suffered three months of sub-100,000 job growth. Last week, initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 35,000 to a seasonally adjusted 353,000, the Labor Department said, near a four-year low touched earlier this month. That was a much sharper drop than economists expected.
The reading for jobless claims has been volatile this month because of the timing of the annual auto plant shutdowns for retooling. One measure that tries to smooth out this volatility, the four-week moving average, fell 8,750 last week to 367,250.