WASHINGTON - Sales of new homes plummeted in January, and businesses ordered fewer long-lasting goods. But the number of people applying for unemployment benefits has fallen over the past four weeks to the lowest level in two-and-a-half years.
Together, the government reports Thursday sketched a mixed picture. They suggest that the struggling housing industry remains a drag on an economy that’s growing slowly but steadily.
The reports showed:
• New-home sales dropped 12.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 284,000, the Commerce Department said. That’s less than half the pace economists consider healthy. The drop is a worrisome sign because it follows the worst year for new home sales in nearly 50 years.
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• Companies’ orders for long-lasting manufactured goods, excluding the volatile aircraft and auto categories, dropped 3.6 percent last month, Commerce said in a separate report. The drop followed two months of gains. One category that’s viewed as a proxy for business investment spending fell by the largest amount in two years.
Overall, orders for durable goods rose 2.7 percent, driven by a jump in commercial aircraft orders. Still, orders totaled around $200 billion – considered a healthy level, and it’s 25 percent above the recession low hit in March 2009.
• Applications for unemployment benefits dropped by 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 391,000, the Labor Department said. It was the third decline in four weeks.