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Unemployment applications up last week

The end of the holiday shopping season led to more Americans seeking unemployment benefits last week, raising the number of applications to an 18-week high. Still, the number remains near historically low levels. The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for benefits jumped 19,000 to a seasonally adjusted 316,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 6,750 to 298,000. That average has plunged 11.4 percent over the past 12 months and has remained near historically low 300,000 levels since September. The recent trend suggests that employers expect solid economic growth to continue, causing them to hold onto their workers and possibly increase their headcounts. The four-week average “still suggests solid job growth above 200,000 per month,” said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.