Initial claims for unemployment benefits in the United States dropped back slightly to 432k in the week ending Aug. 16, coming down 13k from the previous week's downwardly revised 445k figure, the Department of Labor reported on Thursday. Continuing claims fell to 3.362 million for the week ending Aug. 9.

Forecasts were for initial claims to fall to 440k this week. Claims in the previous week were previously reported at 450k.

This week's figure is below the four-week moving average for initial claims, which is now 446k, up from 439k last week.

This is the 15th consecutive week that continuing claims have been above the 3 million mark. The four-week average for continuing claims rose 66k to 3.264 million.

New rules introduced by the Department of Labor three weeks ago make filing for unemployment benefits easier, which economists say has pushed up the recent figures.

Prior to the release, Sal Guatieri from BMO Capital Markets said: "It's possible that most, if not all, of the upward spike in initial jobless claims to above 400k in recent weeks reflects the government's extended benefits program. However, the longer that claims stay near current levels of 450k, the greater the chance we will see a 100k+ drop in nonfarm payrolls for the first time in the current economic slump. The market expects a modest 10k pullback to 440k in the August 16 week, which covers the survey period for the August payrolls report."

By Patrick McGee and edited by Nancy Girgis