WASHINGTON (AP) -- Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to a three-month low of 315,000. Meanwhile, retail sales rebounded in February.
The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications, a less volatile figure, decreased 6,250 to 330,500, the lowest since early December.
Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. The declines indicate companies are confident enough about the economy to keep their staffs.
Employers are hiring more after harsh winter weather lowered job gains in January and December, the government said last week. The economy gained 175,000 jobs last month, up from just 129,000 in January and only 84,000 in December.
About 3.45 million people received unemployment benefits as of Feb. 22, the latest figures available. That's 13,000 more than the previous week.
U.S. retail sales bounced back in February after suffering a steep decline during a bitterly cold January. Shoppers spent more on autos, clothing and furniture.
The Commerce Department says seasonally-adjusted retail sales rose 0.3 percent in February. Spending had fallen 0.6 percent in January and 0.3 percent in December.
The increase suggests that consumer spending has started to recover after being tempered by snowstorms and freezing temperatures that blanketed much of the country.
Auto sales rose 0.3 percent. Excluding volatile spending on autos, gas and building supplies, retail sales increased 0.3 percent from December.
Last month's rebound almost brought retail spending back to its December levels. Purchases at restaurants, online retailers and department stores also improved.
Over the past 12 months, retail sales have risen 1.5 percent.