Summary Box: Sluggish new-home sales slow economy

NEW-HOME SALES PLUMMET: Sales of new homes plunged 12.6 percent in January, after the worst year for new-home sales in nearly 50 years.

UNEMPLOYMENT APPLICATIONS DROP: The number of people applying for unemployment benefits has fallen over the past four weeks to the lowest level since July 2008. And orders for large manufactured goods, excluding volatile aircraft and autos orders, fell 3.6 percent in January after rising the previous two months.

MIXED MESSAGE: The reports indicate the struggling housing industry remains a drag on an economy that is growing slowly but steadily.