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The government says the number of newly laid-off workers filing initial claims for jobless benefits fell sharply last week, largely due to changes in the timing of auto industry layoffs.

The Labor Department says the number of first-time jobless claimsplummeted by 52,000 to a seasonally adjusted 565,000, the lowest level since early January. That’s significantly below analysts’ expectations of 605,000.

But a department analyst says the drop is mostly due to technical factors. Auto layoffs that normally take place in early July, as factories are retooled to build the next year’s models, happened in the spring asGeneral Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC implemented sweeping restructuring plans.

Continuing jobless claims, meanwhile, jumped to 6.88 million, a new record high.