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Data show U.S. economic pulse still strong

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 264,000, the lowest level since 2000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

A separate report from the Federal Reserve showed production at the nation’s factories, mines and utilities advanced a larger-than-expected 1.0 percent last month, the biggest gain since November 2012. Manufacturing output rose a solid 0.5 percent.

The data suggested the economy remained on solid ground, with the labor market gaining steam. Investors in recent days have come to the view that slowing growth overseas will weigh on the U.S. economy and force the Fed to delay a hike in interest rates.

Weak retail sales data on Wednesday shook investor confidence and helped fuel a global sell-off in stock markets that continued on Thursday. U.S. stock markets opened down sharply.

The report on jobless claims nonetheless reinforced expectations that slack in the labor market was being reduced.

A four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 4,250 to 283,500, also the lowest level since 2000.

“Have we achieved full employment? Not yet. Are we getting closer? Absolutely,” said Stephen Stanley, an economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.

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