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New Reports Paint Mixed Picture of US Economy  

U.S. economic experts published encouraging reports on job layoffs and manufacturing Thursday, but data on housing and foreclosures disappointed investors.

The Labor Department says the number of Americans signing up for unemployment assistance declined slightly by 13,000 last week to a total of 623,000.

The report also says the number of people getting long-term unemployment aid hit another record high of nearly 6.8 million, showing it is taking longer than usual for the jobless to find work.

A separate report from the Commerce Department says a measure of U.S. manufacturing rose in April. Orders for expensive items expected to last several years called "durable goods" rose nearly two percent, the biggest boost since the end of 2007.

A separate report said sales of newly-built homes rose slightly in April as falling prices, low interest rates and tax incentives encouraged buyers.

Investors were expecting a stronger gain, and were also concerned when still another report showed the number of mortgage holders who are behind on their payments or falling into foreclosure rose to a record high of 12 percent.

U.S. President Barack Obama told donors and celebrities at a fundraiser in the western U.S. state of California Wednesday night that "we have stepped back from the brink."

But the U.S. president also warned the country cannot return to the same "borrow and spend" approach that has driven the U.S. economy until recently. And despite the signs of improvement, there are also indications that U.S. consumers are still reluctant to spend money.

Costco Wholesale Corporation, a large U.S. discount chain, says its profits fell by 29 percent to $209.6 million for the three months ending in May.

Costco officials say shoppers are buying basic supplies like food but are not spending money on things like furniture and jewelry.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.