The latest economic data surprised some experts Thursday, as durable goods orders and weekly jobless claims moved in unexpected directions, sending mixed signals about the economy.
Bookings for goods designed to last at least three years dropped 0.9% to $173.3 billion in August as demand for autos and computers weakened. The figure followed a revised 1.5% gain the previous month, the Commerce Department said. Economists had expected a 0.6% increase.
Excluding transportation equipment, durable goods orders fell 0.3% last month, after climbing a revised 2.3% in July, also missing the consensus forecast for a 0.5% rise.
However, weekly jobless claims painted a more encouraging picture for the labor market Thursday. The number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits fell for the second consecutive week to 381,000 in the week ended Sept. 20.
The decline from the revised 400,000 in the prior week could signal employers are reducing layoffs, believing the recovery is strengthening. Economists had been expecting 400,000 new claims.
"The sharp drop in claims is good, but we need to see a trend before we get excited," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors. "On the other hand, the durable goods number looked bad on the surface, but I'm not overly concerned, given it's the first drop since April and it wasn't an across-the-board weakness."
Although the figure is considered one of the most volatile among the indicators, durable goods orders are one of the stronger signals of growth in the U.S. economy, which is expected to improve notably in the current quarter.
Naroff is forecasting an annual growth rate for gross domestic product of around 5% in the third quarter, more than double the 2.2% pace registered between January and June this year.
U.S. Treasuries rose following the reports. The benchmark 10-year note gained 8/32 to 101 6/32, pushing the yield down to 4.1%.
Meanwhile, Thursday's housing market figures showed the sector continues to be strong. August existing-home sales rose to a record 6.47 million annual rate after hitting a revised 6.13 million the previous month.
Economists had forecast a decline to 6.05 million, from the initial figure of 6.12 million.
New-home sales last month rose to a 1.150 million annual pace from a revised 1.112 million the previous month. The number went against economists' estimates of a decline to 1.123 million from the initially reported 1.165 million.
"While the numbers were stronger than expected and will continue adding to growth, we have to see if the shoe did drop with the spike in mortgage rates," Naroff said. "So I'm still expecting significantly lower sales in the fourth quarter."