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WASHINGTON - U.S. factory activity grew the most in nearly two years in January and the number of new claims for jobless benefits dropped to a five-year low last week, giving surprisingly strong signals on the economy's pulse.
Financial information firm Markit on Thursday said its preliminary Purchasing Managers Index for manufacturing rose to 56.1 this month, its best showing since March 2011. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.
A separate report from the Labor Department showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell by 5,000 to 330,000, the lowest since January 2008 when the 2007-2009 recession had just begun.
Together, the data suggest the economy entered the new year with some underlying momentum despite an ongoing political battle in Washington over fiscal policy.