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US Economic Recovery Hits Snag

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The gradually improving U.S. economy may be running into some difficulties, even as American consumers are growing more confident.

A report Friday from the U.S. Commerce Department finds new factory orders fell 2.4 percent in August, the biggest drop since January and the second decline in the last three months.

The report measured orders for "durable goods" - items intended to last several years, including everything from appliances to airliners.

Still, consumer sentiment is rising.

A survey finds consumer confidence grew in September -- to its highest level since January 2008 -- on expectations for a continued economic recovery.

However, U.S. officials have been cautious about the pace of a recovery.

The head of the U.S. central bank, who said just last week that the recession "is very likely over," said Friday that consumers and companies still need help.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said "an ongoing need still clearly exists" for many households and businesses that are short on cash.

The U.S. government has been starting to shut down a number of programs designed to help ease the flow of credit, which slowed during the financial crisis. But the Fed recently extended one of its programs aimed at helping consumers.

Meanwhile, a report by U.S. regulators finds large banks and financial institutions lost $53 billion on bad loans in 2009 - three times more than the previous record, set in 2002.

A separate Commerce Department report found new home sales rose slightly (seven-tenths of a percent) in August to their highest level in almost a year. But the National Association of Realtors' report Thursday indicated the U.S. housing market is still struggling, with sales of previously owned homes falling 2.7 percent in August.

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