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Housing Shines Amid Otherwise Mixed Data

September 26, 2003
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A batch of U.S. economic reports on Thursday showed a sizzling housing sector and a hint of improvement in the jobs market, but a drop in demand for costly factory goods left a reminder the economy is not yet back to full health.

The National Association of Realtors said existing-home sales shot up 5.5 percent in August to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 6.47 million, a record high well above the 6.05 million rate expected on Wall Street.

Further underscoring the housing sector's strength, the Commerce Department said sales of new single-family homes gained 3.4 percent last month to an annual rate of 1.15 million -- second only to the record 1.18 million pace of June and a bit above the 1.12 million forecast by market economists.

In a third report, the Labor Department said initial claims for jobless benefits fell further than expected to 381,000 last week from a revised 400,000 a week earlier, but it said half of the improvement could be pinned on Hurricane Isabel, which forced a number of state aid offices to shut down.

While those reports suggested the economy may be gaining steam, another Commerce Department report on demand for long-lasting factory goods showed the recovery is still on somewhat thin ice.

New orders for durable goods took a surprise tumble last month, dropping 0.9 percent. It was the first decline since April and bucked expectations for a 0.6 percent gain. But economists said an upward revision to already healthy July figures took some of the sting away and noted the report is notoriously volatile.

The torrent of figures offered few clear clues to markets trying to discern where the economy is heading.

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