By John S. McClenahen Although Wall Street still seems not to appreciate them, data continue to substantiate U.S. recovery from the 2001 recession. Notably, orders for machine tools are starting to increase after months of discouraging numbers. Paced by a 9% increase in gross orders for metal cutting machine tools, U.S. machine tool consumption advanced to $185.67 million in May, 7.7% better than April's figure of $172.33 million. "The signs that life is creeping back into manufacturing are there," says Don Carslon, president of the McLean, Va.-based AMT-The Association for Manufacturing Technology. "The upward trend in machine tool orders appears to be building momentum into the summer." AMT and the Rockville, Md.-based American Machine Tool Distributors' Association compile the consumption statistics. Meanwhile, initial claims for unemployment insurance, a key indicator of labor market conditions, fell to 379,000 for the week ending July 13, reports the U.S. Labor Department's Employment & Training Administration. That figure is well below the revised 407,000 for the previous week and below the 394,000 mark that most economists expected. "Summer auto shutdowns likely are distorting claims, which were above trend last [time]," contends Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist at UBS Warburg LLC, New York "Smoothed [out], claims remain on a grudging down trend, pointing to slow, slight improvement in the job market that is consistent with steady growth."