US jobless claims ticked lower last week, leaving the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits at the lowest since November.

The number of claims fell 7,000 to 262,000, the Bureau of Labor said on Thursday. Economists had expected claims to creep up to 275,000.

The number of Americans claiming jobless benefits has fallen steadily after peaking at 6.6m in May, 2009, just as the US economy was emerging from recession. A sustained improvement in the labour market gave the Federal Reserve the confidence to lift rates in December for the first time in almost a decade.

However, concern the outlook for the US is weakening is again sharpening focus on health of the jobs market as Fed officials weigh when to lift interest rates again.

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