When Labor Department releases its regular report on unemployment benefit claims, analysts usually are watching to see if the claims are above or below 400,000--which is the level indicating "stable job growth," according to Reuters. This week, for the first time in three months, jobless claims fell by 24,000 to 398,000, which is being considered "an unexpected sign of relief in the labor market," as The Wall Street Journal concluded. From the Labor Department's release:

In the week ending July 23, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 398,000, a decrease of 24,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 422,000. The 4-week moving average was 413,750, a decrease of 8,500 from the previous week's revised average of 422,250.

As one strategist told Bloomberg right before the reports release: "Employers are re-staffing very selectively and strategically." The economists polled by Reuters and Dow Jones Newswires didn't forecast claims falling as much as they ended up.