Fresh signs emerged on Thursday that the U.S. economy has broken out of its summer soft patch. Data showed that a gauge of jobless benefits hit a new two-year low last week and home sales seem to have buoyed somewhat.

The picture was also brightened by news that retailers saw stronger-than-expected sales for November as shoppers flocked to stores and spent more during the annual discount bonanza known as Black Friday.

The reports were the latest to suggest a pickup in activity in the fourth quarter. The data and a decision by European officials to extend a liquidity safety net for vulnerable banks helped U.S. stocks; the dollar fell against the euro and the yen.

Analysts believe the Federal Reserve’s decision to loosen monetary policy further — through additional purchases of $600 billion worth of government debt — should help shield the domestic economy from much of the turbulence from Europe.

However, despite signs of improvement, strains remain in the labor market. The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits increased 142,874 to 3.94 million in the week that ended Nov. 13.

But: Jobless benefits, now expired, pose a risk

WASHINGTON – The White House urged Congress on Thursday to extend unemployment aid and warned that failure to act would inflict a heavy toll on millions of Americans that could put the U.S. economic recovery at risk.

“Without an extension, employment would be about 600,000 lower ... in December 2011 than if a year-long extension were passed,” a White House report claims.

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