Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell by 12,000 in the May 16 week to 631,000, much below analysts’ expectations, according to data released by the Labor Department yesterday.

A Market News International survey had expected the initial claims level to rise to 645,000 this week from the originally reported 637,000 in the May 9 week. The expectations ranged from 620,000 to 675,000.

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