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Morning Market Roundup: Unemployment Aid Hits 5-Week High, U.S. Growth Slower Than Predicted, EU Inflation

Here’s what’s important in the business world this morning:

Unemployment: The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to a five-week high, evidence that the job market remains sluggish.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 383,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased for the first time in a month to 374,500.

Applications had leveled off at about 370,000 for four weeks. That decline suggested that hiring could pick up in May, or so says the Associated Press.

U.S. Growth: The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.9 percent in the first three months of the year, slower than first estimated.

The Commerce Department on Thursday lowered its estimate for January-March growth from an initial estimate of 2.2 percent. The downward revision was largely because consumers spent less than first estimated, business restocked more slowly, and the U.S. trade deficit grew sharply.

The government reports Friday on May job growth. Economists expect 158,000 jobs created, slightly better than the past two months but far below the winter's pace. They also expect no change in the unemployment rate.

One positive development this month: gas prices have fallen.

EU Inflation: Inflation across the 17 countries that use the euro fell by more than anticipated in May, official figures showed Thursday - a development that will likely add pressure on the European Central Bank to cut interest rates next week.

In its first estimate, Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office, said annual consumer price increases slowed to a 15-month low of 2.4 percent in May from 2.6 percent the previous month. The expectation in the markets was for a more modest decline to 2.5 percent.

Though inflation is still running above the ECB's target of keeping price increases below 2 percent, the central bank is under pressure to lower its main benchmark rate from the current 1 percent to help the ailing eurozone economy

Oil: Oil prices hovered around $88 a barrel Thursday as a fresh wave of sour economic news from Europe lent weight to expectations that the region's slowdown will lead to lower demand for crude.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for July delivery was up 12 cents to $87.94 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slid $2.99 to close at $87.82 on the Nymex on Thursday.

In London, Brent crude was up 19 cents at $103.66 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story has been updated.

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