Mixed Signals on the Economy

Jobless claims improve, but the housing market remains weak.

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Is the sky falling? There's no clear answer from today's economic news. The Labor Department announced that last week jobless claims actually fell. There were 33,000 fewer workers seeking unemployment benefits, as 342,000 new jobless claims were filed. And while orders for durable goods, big-ticket items like appliances, fell 0.3 percent in March, when you exclude the transportation category, they increased 1.5 percent.

But on the downside, nothing seems to be able to stop the bleeding in the housing market. New-home sales dropped 8.5 percent in March to a 17-year low, despite a decline of 13 percent in their median sales price over the past year.

Meanwhile, Ford reported its first profitable quarter since the spring of 2007. The auto company registered a $100 million profit, thanks largely to strong sales in Europe and South America. But at home, Ford's U.S. vehicle sales dropped 14 percent compared with a year ago.