News In Brief

New claims for unemployment benefits fell unexpectedly across the US last week, marking the second consecutive drop and the lowest level in more than three months. The Labor Department said 294,000 Americans filed new claims for state benefits for the week ending July 3 - down 6,000 from the previous week. Last week's jobless-claims level was the lowest since March 27, when there were 289,000 new claims.

Heavier-than-expected demand for gasoline across the US this summer is draining stocks of crude oil - which, in turn, has pushed futures prices on world markets to their highest level in a year and a half, analysts said. The benchmark Brent crude price on the London market yesterday hit $18.61 a barrel, a $2.50 jump since mid-June. As recently as February, Brent crude futures were less than $10 a barrel. Analysts said they expect world surplus stocks to be depleted by October, exposing consumers to still higher prices just as the winter home-heating season arrives.

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