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Markets disheartened by mixed US figures

MIXED US data dominated the markets yesterday after two other key macroeconomic indicators also disappointed investors.

Business activity in the Midwest, as measured by the Institute of Supply Management’s Chicago business index, dropped to 58.8 in March from 62.6 in February, indicating a slowdown in the pace of expansion. This reading was well below the consensus estimate of 61.

Business conditions in New York showed a more dramatic slowdown, falling to 60.6 in March from a revised 78.1 in February. The nationwide ISM?manufacturing index will be published later today.

The weak data led to stock markets slipping in early morning New York trading but stronger oil prices at $83 hindered the equity markets’ decline.

Later data also gave markets some relief. New orders received by US factories rose for the sixth consecutive month in February, according to the US Commerce Department and by slightly more than expected.

US mortgage applications also increased last week for the first time in three weeks as demand for home purchase loans reached the highest level since October.