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Economists dismissed that spike, saying it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month. That can distort the government's seasonal adjustments. But if the trend continues it would be a troubling sign of rising layoffs.

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US existing-home sales drop for 3rd straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ The number of people who bought existing U.S. homes in November declined for the third straight month. Higher mortgage rates have made home-buying more expensive, while the lingering effect of the October government shutdown might have deterred some sales.

Home re-sales fell 4.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.90 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. That was the weakest pace since December 2012 and the first time since April that the pace has slipped below 5 million.

Still, the Realtors' group predicts that total sales this year will be 5.1 million. That would be the strongest since 2007, when the housing bubble burst. But it's still below the 5.5 million generally associated with healthy housing markets.

Home sales could rebound in the new year if the strengthening job market lifts incomes and builds confidence in the economy.

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Gauge of economy's health up 0.8 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ A measure of the U.S. economy's health posted a solid gain in November, suggesting momentum was building at the end of the year.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators rose 0.8 percent in November compared with October, when the index had posted a much smaller 0.1 percent gain. The index rose 1 percent in September, the month before the 16-day partial government shutdown.

The index is designed to signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.

Conference Board economist Ataman Ozyildirim said that the November index increase suggested "gradually strengthening economic conditions through early 2014."

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