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Updated from 9:46 a.m. EDT

Investors got a triple-dose of good news about the economy Thursday morning, with better-than-expected readings on employment, the housing market and sales of big-ticket items.

Reports showed orders for durable goods fell in August after a huge surge in July, but at a rate that was far less than analysts expected. Unemployment benefits claims pulled back in the most recent week, giving investors hope that the labor market may be stabilizing after seven weeks of rising claims. And new home sales continued to rise in August.

Orders for big-ticket items slipped 0.6% last month after climbing a revised 8.6% in July, according to the Commerce Department Thursday. July orders had initially been reported up 9.2%. Although the decline was disappointing, economists had called for a much larger drop of 3.4% for the month.

In a sign that business spending may be picking up, Commerce said nondefense capital goods orders jumped 5.9% in August after a 12.5% rise in the prior month. Excluding defense orders, durable goods would have risen 0.6%. Demand for machinery, computers and communications equipment slipped in August, but electronics orders were up.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said the number of workers filing initial applications for unemployment benefits fell by 24,000 to 406,000 in the week ending Saturday. Economists had expected a decline of just 10,000 first-time claims.

The four-week moving average, which is considered a more reliable measure, declined by 1,000 to 419,000. Still, the department raised its estimate of claims for the prior week by 6,000 to 430,000 from the previously reported 424,000.

Somewhat disconcerting was another rise in the moving average for continuing claims, which gained 29,500 to 3.58 million, the highest in two months.

New home sales rose 1.9% to an annual rate of 996,000 in August as historically low mortgage rates kept the housing market brisk. July's rate was revised down to 977,000 but the readings were still better than economists had forecast. Sales were strongest in the West and South; they tumbled almost 10% in the Northeast.

Several homebuilders were higher on the news.


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