Initial claims for unemployment benefits in the United States fell to 346k in the week ending July 5, following an unrevised 404k in the previous week. Continuing claims rose to 3.202 million for the week ending June 28, the Department of Labor reported Thursday.

Forecasts were for initial claims to come in at 395k and for continuing claims to fall to 3.123 million following the previous week's downwardly revised figure of 3.111 million.

This week's initial claims figure is above the four-week moving average, which is now 380k.

Excluding the final week of March, the previous week's 404k figure was in a cyclical high.

The four-week moving average for continuing claims is now 3.126 million, up from the moving average of 3.111 million in the previous week.

Prior to the release, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ chief financial economist Christopher Rupkey said last week's 404k reading "will be the last clean read on claims for a few weeks as the seasonal auto plant shutdowns hit the seasonal factors hard in the July 5 and 12 weeks, and come back down to normal in the July 19 week. The 404K number may have been pushed up by early plant closings as well."

By Stephen Huebl and edited by Cristina Markham