U.S. jobless claims hit five-month high, but layoffs low

WASHINGTON, Dec 1 (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, hitting the highest level in five months, but the underlying trend remained consistent with a healthy labor market.

The jobs market strength was underscored by other data on Thursday showing planned layoffs by U.S.-based employers fell 12 percent in November to their lowest level this year.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 268,000 for the week ended Nov. 26, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the highest reading since June and marked the second straight week of increases. Claims for the prior week were unrevised.

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Despite the increase, claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a healthy labor market, for the 91st straight week. That is the longest run since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.

Economists had forecast first-time applications for jobless benefits rising to 253,000 in the latest week.

The dollar fell against a basket of currencies after the claims report, while prices for U.S. government bonds trimmed losses.

Jobless claims, which hit a 43-year low in mid-November, tend to be volatile around this time of the year as the model the government uses to strip out seasonal fluctuations from the data does not fully account for changes in the timings of different holidays.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, edged up 500 to 251,500 last week.

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Last week's claims data has no bearing on November's employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period.

New filings for jobless benefits fell between the October and November survey weeks, supporting expectations for another month of solid employment gains. According to a Reuters survey of economists, nonfarm payrolls probably increased by 175,000 jobs last month after rising 161,000 in October.

In a separate report, global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas said U.S.-based employers announced plans to lay off 26,936 workers last month, down from the 30,740 job cuts announced in October.

Jobs cuts in November were concentrated in the retail sector, with 4,850 announced layoffs, most of which stemmed from the bankruptcy of American Apparel. The retail losses were, however, more than offset by a surge in holiday hiring.

The strong labor market, viewed as being at or near full employment, combined with signs of a firming economy and steadily rising inflation are expected to encourage the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates at its Dec. 13-14 policy meeting.

The U.S. central bank raised its benchmark overnight interest rate last December for the first time in nearly a decade.

Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 38,000 to 2.08 million in the week ended Nov. 19. The four-week average of the so-called continuing claims rose 12,750 to 2.04 million.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)