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Reports Signal Sluggish Growth

Factory orders for big-ticket durable goods are down for the fifth time this year and claims for jobless benefits are up for a third straight week, new signs of economic sluggishness.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that more than 75 percent of the orders drop in July was a decline in the automobile industry due to a two-week shutdown of production lines for model changeovers.

Still, the decrease in manufacturing was widespread, with orders for electronic and other electrical equipment posting the only gain among major industry groups.

“The manufacturing sector is still on the sluggish side,” said economist Richard Berner of the Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh. “The report suggests that the improvement in the summer quarter is proceeding at a slow pace.”

Orders in July fell 1.7 percent, to a seasonally adjusted $156.4 billion from $159.1 billion a month earlier. The decline was the largest since orders dropped 4.6 percent in April.

In a second report Thursday, the Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment insurance jumped by 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the third consecutive advance. Analysts had expected an increase of only about 2,000.

But the closely watched four-week moving average of jobless claims fell by 6,000 to 334,750, lowest since 332,750 during the period ended Feb. 18.