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The number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits fell to a near 44- year low last week, reinforcing the picture painted by recent economic indicators of continued strength in the US labor market.

US jobless claims fell by 19,000 to 223,000 in the week ending February 25, according to the Labour Department — confounding market expectations for a rise to 245,000.

The figures would represent the lowest level of weekly claims since the week of March 31 1973.

The lack of an uptick in jobless claims further underscores the strength of the US labour market, one of the primary considerations weighed by the Federal Reserve as it readies to raise interest rates perhaps as soon as this month.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.

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