Jobless claims at 6-month low

Initial filings sink by 47,000 to 522,000, lowest level since first week of January.

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By Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney.com contributing writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of Americans filing initial unemployment insurance claims fell to the lowest level in six months, according to government data released Thursday -- but the drop may be attributable to quirks in the auto industry rather than improvement in the economy.

There were 522,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended July 11, down 47,000 to from a revised-up 569,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said. The number of claims was the lowest since the 488,000 claims reported in the week ended Jan. 3, a week that included the New Year holiday.

The number was much less than the consensus estimate of 553,000 from economists surveyed by Briefing.com.

The 4-week moving average of initial claims was 584,500, down 22,500 from the previous week's revised average of 607,000.

Weekly data tend to be volatile this time of year, said a Labor Department analyst, who asked not to be identified. The data are seasonally adjusted, and government statisticians try to predict the timing of auto industry layoffs, many of which usually occur in the first two weeks of July.

But in this "abnormal year," many of the auto and manufacturing layoffs occurred earlier in the year, the analyst said.

"The annual auto retooling shutdowns almost certainly explain the sudden dive in claims," agreed Ian Shepherdson, economist at High Frequency Economics, in a research note. "The shutdowns happen every year, but GM (GMGMQ) and Chrysler started early this year."

Shepherdson said he expected a "hefty rebound" in new claims over the next few weeks, as "the latest numbers are just far too good to be true."

Continuing claims: The government said 6,273,000 people filed continuing claims in the week ended July 4, the most recent data available. The week included the Independence Day holiday.

That's down 642,000 from the preceding week's revised 6,915,000 claims.

The 4-week moving average for ongoing claims fell to 6,666,750, down 110,250 from the preceding week's revised average of 6,777,000.

State-by-state data: A total of seven states reported initial claims fell by more than 1,000 in the week ended July 4, the most recent data available.

New Jersey's claims fell the most, by 5,030 -- which a state-supplied comment attributed to the shorter workweek, as well as fewer layoffs in the transportation, warehousing, trade, and service industries.

Conversely, nine states reported claims increased by more than 1,000. Michigan reported the most new claims, at 12,144.

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