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US jobless claims fall in February payrolls survey week, prices tame

Washington: The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, pointing to steadily improving labour market conditions, despite two straight months of weak hiring.

Other data on Thursday showed relentlessly cold weather putting a strain on household budgets, with electricity and heating fuel prices surging in January. However, inflation pressures remained muted.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000, the Labour Department said. That was mostly in line with economists’ expectations.

The claims data covered the survey week for February’s nonfarm payrolls report. Snow storms slammed parts of the country last week, which could have kept some workers at home.

Bitterly cold weather was blamed for a sharp slowdown in hiring in December and January’s marginal bounce back. Claims have been tucked in a 325,000-348,000 range this year suggesting no fundamental shift in labour market conditions.

In a second report, the department said strong gains in the price of household energy had accounted for most of the 0.1 per cent rise in its Consumer Price Index in January.

The CPI had advanced 0.2 per cent in December and last month’s rise was in line with economists’ expectations.

In January, electricity prices rose 1.8 per cent, the largest gain since March 2010. Natural gas prices surged 3.6 per cent.

That was the largest rise since April. The cost of heating oil jumped 3.7 per cent, the biggest increase since September 2012.

The increases, which offset a 1.0 per cent fall in the price of gasoline, a putting a strain household finances as incomes barely grow.

In a third report, the department said weekly average earnings adjusted for inflation rose 0.1 percent in January after sliding 0.5 per cent in December.