US jobless numbers drop sharply


US jobless claims posted their sharpest drop in three years last week in a sign of job market cheer, but housing starts in November logged their biggest plunge in nearly 11 years, the government said this afternoon.

In a third report, the government said the shortfall in the US current account widened to a record $164.71 billion - reflecting the US consumer's seemingly insatiable appetite for imported goods.

The mixed bag of economic data had little impact on currency and Treasury bond prices.

First-time claims for jobless benefits fell by much more than expected in the week ending December 11th to 317,000, their lowest level since July, Labor Department data showed.

Wall Street economists had expected a dip to 340,000.

The Labor Department said there were no special factors to account for the drop, the largest since a 77,000 fall in December 2001, but cautioned claims are often volatile in the holiday period.

A separate report showed housing starts unexpectedly plummeted 13.1 per cent last month, the biggest dive since a 17 per cent tumble in January 1994, as groundbreaking activity fell sharply across the nation.

Housing starts slid to an annual rate of 1.771 million units in November from an upwardly revised 2.039 million clip a month earlier, the Commerce Department said.