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U.S. crude oil fell below $44 a barrel for the first time since April 2009 on Thursday while benchmark Brent sharply pared early gains after data showing additions to already record-high U.S. oil inventories. Oil prices had risen broadly earlier in the session after preliminary U.S. weekly jobless claims data hit a nearly 15-year low, indicating further strength in the world's largest economy. "There are absolutely very few reasons to buy crude oil now and the only path I see from here is lower," said James Williams, energy economist at WTRG Economics in London, Arkansas. U.S. crude futures' front-month contract was down 64 cents at $43.81 a barrel by 11:29 a.m. ET (1629 GMT), after falling to $43.58 earlier.
By Lucia Mutikani WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to its lowest level in nearly 15 years, adding to bullish signals on the labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 for the week ended Jan. 24, the lowest since April 2000, the Labor Department said. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 8,250 last week to 298,500. The latest decline in applications for unemployment benefits bolsters views of tightening labor market conditions and comes a day after the Federal Reserve ramped up its assessment of the labor market and the overall economy.