By John S. McClenahen They sure weren't signs of irrational exuberance. Nor, however, were they cause for irrational pessimism. Rather the quartet of U.S. economic data downloaded on July 25 point to a moderate U.S. recovery from the 2001 recession. According to the U.S. Labor Department, initial claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending July 20 fell to 362,000, well below the 383,000 that economists generally expected. But "the risk is that seasonal factors may not be capturing exactly the pattern of summer layoffs in industries like cars and textiles," says Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist at UBS Warburg LLC, New York. "Still, the trend in claims is lower, as it is in the total number of jobless insurance beneficiaries. . . . This suggests that job creation is picking up, but we do not believe that it is yet sufficient to push the jobless rate lower," says Harris. New orders for aircraft, autos, computers and other durable manufactured goods declined an unexpected 3.8% in June, falling to $166.6 billion, U.S. Commerce Department data show. Economists had been looking for a 1% gain. The news, "while not welcome, should not raise too many alarm bells," says David Huether, chief economist at the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Manufacturers. "It does not change my belief that the manufacturing recovery will continue in the second half of the year," he stresses. "The decline in orders last month, while the largest since November, is likely a one-time adjustment to the growth in new orders over the previous six months." The U.S. housing market, booming at the beginning of this year, moderated in June. Sales of new family homes were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,001,000 in June, 0.5% higher than the revised May rate of 996,000, according to data jointly released by the Commerce Department and the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. However, sales of existing homes in June fell 11.7% to an adjusted annual rate of 5.07 million units, reveal estimates from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Washington, D.C. "After experiencing record highs during the first part of the year, existing-home sales eventually were bound to decline to more sustainable levels," says David Lereah, NAR's chief economist. Nevertheless, Lereah says he "wouldn't be surprised" to see existing-home sales "bounce back a little over the summer."