First-time claims for jobless benefits in the U.S. declined 12,000, to 350,000 last week, the smallest number in 4½ years, the Labor Department said. Most economists say applications at that level indicate the labor market is moderately improving. The four-week rolling average, a less volatile benchmark, also declined, with claims falling 11,250, to 356,750, the least since March 2008.

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