Housing and jobs numbers signal firmer economy

U.S. home resales jumped more than expected in December and claims for new jobless claims last week posted their biggest decline in nearly a year, showing two key economic trouble spots on the mend.

Other reports also offered reason for optimism, with mid-Atlantic factory activity holding up well and an index of leading indicators surpassing economists’ forecasts.

The raft of positive data on Thursday renewed hope that 2011 growth will surpass last year’s performance, which was not robust enough to put a meaningful dent in the nation’s elevated 9.4 percent unemployment rate.

“Most of the reports today were fairly good. For anyone skeptical about the U.S. recovery, these should ease concern,” said Kathy Lien, director of research at GTF Forex in New York.

Despite the barrage of better news, stock prices were dragged lower by technology and materials shares. Bond prices dropped, pushing the benchmark yields that help determine mortgage rates higher. The U.S. dollar rallied.

U.S. existing home sales soared 12.3 percent to an annual rate of 5.28 million units as sellers cut prices, the National Association of Realtors said. Economists had only expected a rise to 4.85 million. Still, a rise in distressed sales raised questions about the rebound’s sustainability.