Mixed Signals Raise Economic Doubts

Factory orders rose strongly in September for the second straight month, spurred by rising business demand for big-ticket durable goods.

But analysts said the gains were uneven and noted that rising jobless claims suggest softness in the labor market. The nation’s big retailers reported dismal sales for October, casting new doubt on the economy’s strength.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that factory orders climbed 1.5 percent in September on top of a 2.7 percent increase in August that was the biggest gain in nine months. But analysts said much of the most recent increase was concentrated in aircraft.

The Labor Department said the number of American workers filing first-time claims for jobless benefits rose by 6,000 last week to a six-week high. New applications for unemployment insurance totaled a seasonally adjusted 365,000, up from 359,000 a week earlier.

Meanwhile, retailers said October sales were disappointing. The Salomon Brothers retail index rose just 0.4 percent after a 3.3 percent gain in September.

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