New claims for U.S. jobless benefits fell last week, holding near four-year lows, while many U.S. retailers reported strong sales gains for February.
The Labor Department said initial jobless claims fell by 2,000 last week to 351,000. The four-week moving average of claims-considered a better measure of labor-market trends-fell 5,500 to 354,0000, the lowest level since March 2008.
Jobless claims have declined through most of February, suggesting the labor market was gaining momentum. However, Federal Reserve (Fed) Chairman Ben Bernanke on Wednesday described the labor market as 'far from normal' and said further improvement would require stronger economic growth.
Meanwhile, retailers reported strong sales gains Thursday that exceeded Wall Street estimates.
Analysts said the mild winter seen in much of the United States was a factor, but a bigger impact on retail sales was the improving economy, which helped consumer confidence rise to one-year highs.
Americans were particularly encouraged by the improving jobs market. The government reported last month that the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years and the first time since 1994 that the unemployment rate has fallen in five consecutive months.