Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket items rose last month by the largest amount in two years, as the manufacturing sector battles back from the worst recession since World War II.
According to the Commerce Department, orders for durable goods, those items designed to last at least three years, increased by nearly 5 percent in July. That's their third rise in the past four months.
Meanwhile, new home sales jumped almost 10 percent to post their fourth straight monthly gain. But the median sales price of just over $210,000 was down nearly 12 percent from the previous year.
Earlier in the week, the New York-based Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index rose in August. Economists monitor the index closely since consumer spending accounts for nearly three-fourths of all domestic economic activity.
The developments were welcomed on Wall Street where the Dow posted daily gains during four of five sessions.
Positive news was evident in America's fields as well this week as the government affirmed what most farmers already know -- though development has been delayed behind in some parts of the Grain Belt, most of this year's row crops are looking good.
Another round of rainy weather moved through the "Grain Belt" this week, slowing development of many crops and adding to problems caused by previous storms, including hail damage. Earlier this summer, the storms inflicted about $200 million dollars in crop damage in Iowa alone.
Overall though, most of the nation's row crops are in very good shape, though development is somewhat behind in many regions.
According to the Agriculture Department, 18 percent of the nation's corn is dented. That's slightly behind last year's pace, but well below the 5-year average pace of 43 percent. Though a bit behind, 70 percent of the nation's corn crop is rated in the range of good-to-excellent.
Similar conditions can be found in the nation's soybean fields, where 69 percent of the crop is rated good-to-excellent, but development there too is slightly behind. According to USDA, 85 percent of the crop is setting pods. That's well behind the average pod setting pace of 92 percent.
While most of America's winter wheat is in the bin, harvest of the spring crop is extremely behind schedule. Only 22% of the nation's spring wheat has been harvested --- a three-fold decline from the 5-year average pace of 66%. According to USDA, 72 percent of the nation's winter wheat is rated good to excellent, but in Montana, 55 percent of the crop is rated fair to very poor.
And despite severe drought in some regions, 52 percent of America's pasture and rangeland is rated good to excellent. There are, however, some notable exceptions, including Texas where 74 percent of the pasture and range is rated fair to very poor; and California, where persistent drought has left 100 percent of the pasture and range in fair to very poor condition.