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There was more negative news for the troubled housing market Thursday, as the Commerce Department reported a 17-year low in sales of new homes. It said buying dropped 11.5 percent in August, while the average price fell 11.8 percent to $263,900, the lowest on record.

Durable goods orders fell by 4.5 percent in August, the Commerce Department said, the biggest drop in seven months. The decline was led by commercial aircraft and automobiles.

Pointing to the effects of hurricanes Gustav and Ike and a slowing economy, the Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications for unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level in seven years. It said 32,000 people filed for relief, pushing the seasonally adjusted number to 493,000.

Shareholders of Northwest Air-lines voted "yes" Thursday on the carrier's proposed $17.1 billion merger with rival Delta. The latter's stockholders, meeting later in the day, also were expected to approve the deal, which would result in the world's second-largest carrier. It also must be OK'd by the Justice Department, whose antitrust attorneys are studying whether it would be anticompetitive.

Opening arguments in the corruption trial of US Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska were to be heard Thursday in a federal court in Washington. Stevens is the first sitting senator to go on trial for a criminal offense in 27 years. He is accused of failing to report on disclosure forms that he accepted costly repairs to his home from an influential constituent. It is not clear whether he'll testify in his own defense.

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