With more signs that the US economy is flourishing, copper has been rising steadily this week, shrugging off the downside risks of a possible slowdown in China's real estate market. US jobless claims fell to a four-year low, down 14,000 to 351,000 in the week ended March 10. Likewise, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia reported in its Business Outlook Survey that the benchmark Philadelphia Fed Index rose to 12.5 from 10.2, marking its highest level since last April. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that its Empire State manufacturing index rose to 20.2, its highest level since June 2010. A positive reading indicates growth, while a negative number points to a contraction. However, despite positive economic data, caution remains in the long term on worries about China's appetite for the red metal. “We must not slacken our efforts in regulating the housing sector,” said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the closing press conference of the annual National People's Congress. He pointed out that China needs “long-term steady and sound growth” in the property market, rather than sharp movements that could hurt the overall economy. A slowdown in China's housing market would curtail global demand for the red metal considerably. The dollar's recent gains have also kept some investors at bay, as a stronger greenback makes it more expensive for non-US investors to buy dollar-dominated commodities. “The firm US dollar, which appreciated following the Fed's meeting, is no doubt responsible” for growing speculation that interest rates will be raised to cool off the housing sector, said Commerzbank in a research note. “In addition, comments by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao this morning have given rise to uncertainty among market players, causing Chinese equity markets to fall sharply. Jiabao talked about inflated property prices, above all in the country's major cities, and about the need to bring them down to an affordable level.” Meanwhile, China is already slowing down sharply according to Adrian Mowat, JPMorgan Chase's chief Asian and emerging-market strategist. “If you look at the Chinese data, you should stop debating about a hard landing...China is in a hard landing. Car sales are down, cement production is down, steel production is down, construction stocks are down. It's not a debate anymore, it's a fact.” In late afternoon trade, COMEX copper for May delivery was up 1.2 percent at $3.89 a pound.