Dow Jones

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose last week for the fourth week in a row, suggesting some softness in the tight labor market.

The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims increased by 4,000, to 314,000 in the week that ended Aug. 19.

The rise was below Wall Street expectations. Seven economists surveyed by Dow Jones news wires and CNBC had forecast an increase of 7,000 claims from the prior week's level of 313,000, which was revised to 310,000.

The data, typically volatile, should not bother financial markets and are not expected to influence the Federal Reserve.

Investors increasingly believe the central bank will leave interest rates unchanged for the rest of the year. On Tuesday, Fed policymakers, encouraged by a moderation in domestic demand and continued low inflation, voted to leave the key federal funds rate at 6.5%.

The four-week moving average of claims, which eliminates fluctuations in the figures, rose by 10,250, to 299,500 in the week that ended Aug. 19.

A Labor Department spokeswoman said comments from state officials suggested that striking Verizon workers had little impact on the claims data in the week that ended Aug. 12, the most recent period for which such comments are available. During that week 35 states and territories reported a decrease in claims, 16 an increase, and two no change.

In California claims fell by 2,866 in the week that ended Aug. 12, but the state provided no reason for the drop. North Carolina posed a 2,492 decline because of fewer layoffs in the construction industry. Fewer layoffs in the trade and service sectors led to a 1,723 decrease in claims in Texas.

Missouri reported the biggest increase in claims in the Aug. 12 week - a rise of 3,971 claims because of job cuts in the transportation equipment industry. Layoffs in the trade and service sectors and manufacturing were behind an increase of 3,000 claims in Illinois. In Georgia, claims rose by 1,169 because of layoffs in the textile industry.

Separately, the Commerce Department said orders for durable goods slumped 12.4% in July - much more than expected - adding to the belief that economic growth is easing.

The Commerce Department also said durable goods orders rose only 9.5% in June. It had previously reported a 9.7% increase.

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