US Filings for Unemployment Aid at a 5-Week High

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But that survey contrasted with a report, released Friday, by Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan that found consumer sentiment rose to its highest level in four and a half years.

Economists said the difference between the two is partly explained by timing. The Conference Board's survey was completed by May 16, just before stock prices leveled off after falling steadily. Gas prices also fell further after the survey was completed. The University of Michigan's report continued until later in the month and would have captured both of those trends.

There are signs the housing market is slowly improving. Home prices rose in March from the previous month in most major U.S. cities for the first time in seven months, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index. Prices rose in 12 of the 20 cities it tracks. Some of the increase was due to the start of the spring home selling season. The month-to-month price changes aren't seasonally adjusted.

In April, sales of both previously occupied homes and new homes rose near two-year highs. Builders are gaining more confidence in the market as traffic from potential buyers rises, according to an industry survey.

Building permits have risen in recent months, though they fell in April from nearly a two-year high, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

Long-term mortgage rates have never been lower. The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.78 percent last week, the lowest since long-term rates began in the 1950s.

Still, the pace of home sales remains well below healthy levels. Economists say it could be years before the market is fully healed.


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