U.S. unemployment benefits up by 46,000

      WASHINGTON (AP) - Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment benefits jumped 46,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, the highest in four months. The increase represents a rebound from the previous week's sharp drop. Both swings were largely due to technical factors.

      The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell slightly to 365,500, a level consistent with modest hiring. Last week, California reported a large drop in applications, pushing down the overall figure to the lowest since February 2008. This week, it reported a significant increase as it processed applications delayed from the previous week.

      A department spokesman says the seasonally adjusted numbers "are being distorted ... by an issue of timing."

      Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they decline, it suggests hiring is improving.