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.

Democrats in Connecticut put off until after the Nov. 4 election a vote on whether to censure the state's senior US senator, Joseph Lieberman, for his endorsement of Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Lieberman, who sought the vice presidency as a Democrat in the 2000 election, also angered party members by criticizing their nominee, Barack Obama (D).

Approved bidders from across the Northeast were to participate Thursday in what's believed to be the first auction of carbon credits, an innovation aimed at helping to reduce global warming. The online exercise will be used to set the price for such credits in future sales, based on supply and demand.

One of the nation's largest auto dealership chains, Bill Heard Enterprises Inc., announced it is going out of business, effective immediately. The company, based in Columbus, Ga., cited "unfavorable local market conditions" and said it lacked "the resources necessary to continue." It operated 13 Chevrolet dealerships in six states, employed more than 3,500 people, and reported $2.1 billion in sales last year.

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