WASHINGTON -- Initial jobless claims unexpectedly jumped to a two-month high of 360,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, but the rise could reflect annual summer shutdowns at auto plants.
The number of people applying for first-time unemployment benefits for the week ending Saturday was up 16,000 from the previous week.
Analysts had expected claims to dip to about 340,000.
The figure was the highest since the week ending May 11, and brought claims over the 350,000 level that economists say indicates moderate labor market growth.
Weekly jobless claims can be especially volatile in the summer as automakers traditionally shut down factories temporarily for retooling. But with vehicle sales booming, automakers are planning fewer seasonal closures this year.
The four-week average for jobless claims, a less-volatile gauge, rose 6,000 last week to 351,750, the Labor Department said. It was the first time that figure has been above 350,000 since the week ending June 1.
Jobless claims have been trending down this year, which along with improving job-creation data have led to speculation that the Federal Reserve could start reducing its monthly bond-buying stimulus program as soon as September.
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