The U.S. Labor Department said the number of initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped in the week that ended July 4. But economists said an unusual shift in the pattern of layoffs by the auto industry distorted the data. "Ignore this number," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. "Our old and unpredictable friend, the annual auto shutdowns, has struck again, rendering the data meaningless this week and for the next few weeks."
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