For now, the stock market welcomed the signs of improved economic health. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 136 points, and broader indexes also increased.
Thursday's reports showed:
• The Conference Board's consumer confidence index rose to 72.2 last month. That's the highest reading since February 2008. While the index is still below the 90 reading consistent with a healthy economy, it has risen from a reading of 40.9 a year ago.
• Sales in retail stores open at least one year rose 5 percent in October, according to a tally from 21 retail chains by the International Council of Shopping Centers. That was better than analysts expected. Some of that increase may reflect higher spending for generators, batteries, water, and other supplies in preparation for Sandy.
• Manufacturing expanded for the second straight month, largely because of higher consumer demand. The Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group, said its index of factory activity ticked up to 51.7 in October from 51.5. A reading above 50 indicates expansion. In the Philadelphia region, manufacturing expanded for the first time in six months, the ISM said. Factory activity is growing again after contracting from June through August. October's reading was still slightly below the average for the last year of 52.2.
• Weekly unemployment applications fell 9,000 to 363,000 last week. That suggests hiring is unlikely to pick up much from its current pace of about 150,000 new jobs a month.
• A report by payroll provider ADP showed that businesses added 158,000 jobs last month, up from 114,000 in the previous month. ADP updated its methodology for the October report. It has frequently diverged sharply from the government's figures.
• Auto sales also rose in October, even though the storm caused dealers on the East Coast to lose three days of business. Toyota sales rose almost 16 percent, Chrysler's 10 percent, and General Motors was up 5 percent. Ford sales increased only slightly.
• Construction spending rose 0.6 percent in September, the Commerce Department said. A healthy gain in spending on home construction and renovation outpaced declines in commercial and government building.
• Manufacturing in China also improved in October, although the two surveys released Thursday showed factory activity in the region was still struggling to grow.
• The U.S. economy expanded at a 2 percent annual pace in the July-September quarter, up from 1.3 percent in the second quarter. Most economists expect growth to slow a bit in the fourth quarter, partly because of disruptions from Sandy.
Still, the economy is growing too slowly to rapidly bring relief to roughly 12 million out-of-work Americans. With the unemployment rate still high, steady growth of more than 3 percent is generally needed to create a sufficient number of jobs.