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Euro Nears Record High

Europe's common currency was selling for $1.3656 recently, up from $1.3636 late Tuesday.

The euro was approaching its all-time high against the greenback Wednesday as yet more news of a sluggish housing sector in the U.S. hit the tape.

One euro was selling for $1.3656, up from $1.3636 late Tuesday, and rapidly nearing the common currency's record high of around $1.367 seen in December 2004.

The exchange-traded fund that tracks the euro, the

Currency Shares Euro Trust

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, was also gaining, up about 0.1%.

A number of housing updates have been disappointing in recent months, and earlier the Commerce Department reported slower-than-expected growth in sales of newly constructed single-family homes during March.

"Even though the new-home sales did show an increase, the new figures cast fresh doubt on the economic growth story for the U.S.," says Ashraf Laidi, chief foreign exchange analyst at CMC Markets in New York. He notes that growth expectations for the U.S. are weakening, while those for Euroland are firming.

"It seems to be just a matter of time before we take out the all-time high for the euro," with $1.37 a real possibility during April or May.

Also out from the Commerce Department were data showing a better-than-forecast increase in durable goods orders for March, but traders shrugged off the news because the figures tend to be volatile.

The weakness in the dollar only gave gold a minor boost, with Comex contracts for June delivery of bullion edging $1.50 higher at $689.20 an ounce in recent action. Likewise, silver was ahead by 11 cents at $14.03 an ounce.

The price of gold and silver tend to increase over time as the value of the greenback declines.

The exchange-traded funds that hold the metals,

streetTracks Gold Shares

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and

iShares Silver Trust

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, were up 0.3% and 0.7%, respectively.

In the mining patch, copper giant

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold

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reported a jump in first-quarter net income of $2.02 a share, up from $1.23 a share the prior year. However, investors had been expecting $2.09.

Still, the stock was gaining 1.6%, partially buoyed by stronger copper futures.

"I think the world is waking up to continuing supply constraints for copper," says Frank Holmes, chief investment officer at U.S. Global Investors in San Antonio. Strikes by workers and weather-related problems combined with the lack of new deposits are causing supply worries among metal traders, Holmes says.

Prices for copper were recently ahead by 4 cents at $3.60 a pound on the Comex.

Elsewhere in base metals, U.S.-based aluminum producer

Alcoa

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said it was considering selling its packaging and consumer division. Investors greeted the news warmly, bidding up the shares 7.1%.