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A mixed economic bag in July

New home sales fall, but orders up for durable goods

WASHINGTON -- Factory orders in July for costly manufactured goods recorded the biggest gain in four months. New home sales, meanwhile, slid, according to a pair of reports that offered a mixed picture of economic activity.

The Commerce Department reported yesterday that orders for durable goods -- big-ticket items expected to last at least three years -- rose 1.7 percent in July from the previous month. Helping was a stronger demand for airplanes, machinery, and communications equipment.

The largest increase since March followed a 1.1 percent gain in June. Also, July's showing was better than the 1 percent rise that some economists were forecasting.

Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said the latest durables report offered ''solid evidence that the manufacturing recovery is on track."

A second report from the department showed that sales of new homes declined by a sharp 6.4 percent in July from the previous month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.13 million units. The decline, steeper than analysts expected, left home sales at their lowest level since December.

Sales in June declined 5.6 percent, according to revised figures, which showed sales were even weaker than previously reported.

The drop in home sales comes amid a sluggish jobs climate and high energy prices, which may have made some people wary of making a big financial commitment, analysts say.

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