Weekly US jobless claims down 12,000

US jobless claims fell by 12,000 last week, according to government data released Thursday -- figures that were better than expected, but which were affected by the Christmas holiday.

Seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance in the week ending December 22 dropped to 350,000 from the previous week's revised 362,000, the Labor Department said.

The four-week moving average was 356,750, a decrease of 11,250 from the prior week's revised average of 368,000.

This week's results were better than expected; some analysts had expected claims to go up.

The previous week saw an increase in claims, following a month of declines.

But a Labor Department official said the results should be taken with a grain of salt since close to a third of the states could only provide estimates due to government offices being closed due to the Christmas holiday.

Analysts with Barclays Research said they were hesitant to read too much into Thursday's report for that very reason.

"We await the subsequent revisions before taking any definitive conclusion; we believe that a significant improvement in labor market conditions ahead of any resolution to the fiscal cliff is unlikely and view trends in initial claims as pointing to a job market that has normalized following the disruption from Hurricane Sandy," they said.

With an end-of-year deadline looming, politicians in Washington have yet to strike a deal to keep the United States from going over the so-called fiscal cliff, a mix of steep tax hikes and drastic spending cuts set to take effect in January.

Experts say going over the "cliff" could plunge the world's biggest economy back into recession.

The Labor Department said earlier this month that the country's unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent in November, the lowest level in nearly four years.

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