US sales data down despite jobless claims fall

New US claims for jobless aid fell last week, hinting at an improvement in the labour market, but declines in new home sales and orders for a range of factory goods in January showed the economy still faced headwinds.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits fell 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 391,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Economists had expected claims to drop to 400,000 last week.

"Jobless was unambiguously good news for the economy. It is consistent with our belief that we are going to see a very strong gain in non-farm payrolls," said David Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities International in New York.

A separate report from the the Commerce Department showed new single-family home sales tumbled 12.6 per cent in January to a seasonally adjusted 284,000 unit annual rate.

Economists had forecast new home sales sliding to a 310,000-unit pace.

Sales surged in December as buyers in California rushed to take advantage of a tax credit for new homes before it expired at the end of the year.

Sales in the West plunged 36.5 per cent after spiking 62.5 per cent the prior month.

A second report from the department showed orders for long-lasting manufactured goods, excluding transportation, dropped 3.6 per cent last month, the biggest fall since January 2009, after rising three per cent in December.

Economists had expected orders excluding transportation to rise 0.4 per cent in January.

But the data has had little impact on US financial markets, where traders continued to monitor the worsening political unrest in Libya, which has sent crude prices soaring. US Treasury debt prices rose on safe-haven buying, while stocks were flat.