U.S. initial jobless claims came in lower than expected in the week ending April 12 with a total of 372K seasonally adjusted claims filed, representing a 4.8% rise from the week before, the Department of Labor reported Thursday. Forecasts were looking for a total of 375k claims. The previous week's figure was revised downward to 355k from 357k.

The latest figure is slightly lower than the four-week moving average of 376k. Economists say the average is a less volatile employment indicator than the weekly claims snapshot.

Jobless claims have retraced after reaching a two-and-a-half year high of 407,000 in the final week of March. The index's all-time high was reached on Sept. 30, 1982 when initial jobless claims surged to 671k. The all-time low was in 1968 when claims stood at 162k.

Continuing claims rose to 2984k in the week ending April 12, up from an upwardly revised reading of 2958k in the previous week, representing a 0.9% gain.

Continuing claims reached their highest level at 4637k in May 1975 and dipped to their lowest level of 988k in May 1969.

"Initial jobless claims continue to hover around the 375,000 recession DMZ, while continuing claims are drifting higher at the start of the second quarter," economists from Bear Stearns wrote in a client note. "We judge these data to be consistent with continued weakness in the labor market in April and with recessionary conditions in the overall U.S. economy."

Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist from HFE, said the dip in the four-week average is "compromised" by the seasonal adjustment issues related to the early Easter holiday. He noted the less volatile eight-week moving average rose to a new cyclical high of 366.1k, having climbed for the past eight weeks.

"We can think of no good reason why claims should now level off, and plenty of reasons why they should be expected to rise further," Shepherdson wrote in a client note. "Expect 400K-plus by mid-year."

By Stephen Huebl edited by Nancy Girgis