unemployment benefits claims dropFewer Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as labor-market tightening compelled employers to hold on to seasonal hires.

Jobless claims decreased by 4,000 to 294,000 in the week ended Jan. 3, as reported by the Labor Department. The median forecast of 45 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a decline to 290,000.

Employers finding it harder to fill vacancies are likely holding on to more workers hired during the holidays as the economy expands and consumer spending picks up. The need to keep staff may mean companies will soon need to boost wages.

Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the Labor Department report. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in March climbed 0.8 percent to 2,035.6 at 8:46 a.m. in New York on speculation central banks will support growth even as the American economy shows signs of strength.

Claims estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 285,000 to 300,000. The prior weeks’ figure was unrevised at 298,000. The number of applications dropped as low as 266,000 in mid-October, a 14-year low.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, declined to 290,500 from 290,750 the week before.

The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits climbed by 101,000 to 2.45 million in the week ended Dec. 27. The unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits held at 1.8 percent. Reported data is reported with a one-week lag.

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