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US home sales, jobless claims drop unexpectedly

Sales of previously owned homes in the United States unexpectedly fell for the first time in four months in August, indicating a less vigorous pace of economic recovery from a deep recession.

The sales drop overshadowed other data showing a fall in the number of US workers who filed new jobless benefits claims last week.

Separately, central banks in the United States and Europe on Thursday moved to scale back massive injections of dollars into the banking system as financial markets stabilize after the worst global financial crisis since the 1930s.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said sales of existing US homes fell 2.7% to an annual rate of 5.10 million units, disappointing market expectations for a rise to a 5.35 million unit pace. That was the first fall since April.

Another report from the US Labor Department showed new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 530,000 last week. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected initial claims to rise to 550,000.

The housing report did little to change views the economy is recovering from its worst recession in 70 years but raised doubts about how long the rebound will last.

“Everyone knows the third quarter (economic growth) is going to be very good, the question is how sustainable is this recovery and will the housing market be able to fly on its own once the emergency government aid is removed,” said Zach Pandl, an economist at Nomura Securities International in New York.

The Federal Reserve - the US central bank - on Wednesday acknowledged activity had picked up and noted the improvement in the housing sector when it left its key overnight lending rate near zero.

A top White House economic adviser, Christina Romer, said on Thursday the US economy was “back from the brink”, but warned policy-makers against removing fiscal and monetary stimulus too quickly. (Reuters)