US jobless claims fell to their lowest level in two months last week, government data released on Thursday showed.
Initial claims for unemployment insurance in the week ending December 8 dropped to 343,000 from the prior week's revised 372,000, the Labour Department said.
The decline confounded analysts' expectations that claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, would rise to 375,000.
Initial jobless claims have fallen back to their lowest level since the week ending October 6, before Hurricane Sandy battered the Northeast at month's end, sending claims sharply higher.
The four-week moving average fell by 27,000 last week to 381,500.
The Labour Department reported last Friday that the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in November from 7.9 percent in October, highlighting that Hurricane Sandy had not had a noticeable impact on the US labour market.