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Durable Goods Orders Defy Pessimism

Orders for durable goods, a report that is considered an indicator of future manufacturing activity, topped analysts’ predictions in July and recorded its third consecutive monthly increase.

The increase was led by a sharp rise in transportation equipment, the U.S. Commerce Department said Wednesday.

“It was just one of those nice, unexpected summer surprises,” said Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at Merk Mutual Funds. “It’s been a bad, bad year for the economy, and any good news is welcome.”

The dollar amount of the durable goods orders — products like cars, computers and aircraft, items that have a life expectancy of at least three years — increased 1.3 percent in July, matching a revised increase of 1.3 percent for June. Analysts had predicted that orders would remain flat in July, citing a recent Institute for Supply Management survey that showed overall manufacturing to be stagnating, as well as concerns that a slowdown in consumer spending would begin to hit the sector.

Rules Rolled Back Penalizing Companies for Legal Help

The Justice Department on Thursday will roll back a controversial set of rules that penalized companies if they insisted on paying employees’ legal fees or protecting their confidential communications with corporate lawyers. The long-awaited new guidelines, officials said, will no longer allow federal prosecutors to indict a company that takes such measures with its employees.

Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip is scheduled to announce the new policy on Thursday at the New York Stock Exchange, a site of strong symbolic importance because Wall Street firms and their lawyers have attacked the old restrictions as onerous and unconstitutional.

“Penalizing a company for paying the legal fees of its employees is simply outrageous,” said Mercer Bullard, a securities law professor at the University of Mississippi Law School. “In cases where they say ‘we are going to bring down your company unless you waive attorney-client privilege,’ that has to stop.”

Seven Are Killed, Family Held Hostage in Kashmir

Violence in Indian-controlled Kashmir flared anew on Wednesday as gunmen attacked an Indian army post near the city of Jammu and then barricaded themselves in a private home, waging a daylong battle and holding a family hostage.

According to the Indian army, at least seven people were killed, including two gunmen suspected of being militants. Four children were believed to be among those being held.

Indian security officials said that the attackers were militants who had entered from Pakistan and carried out a deadly rampage.

Television reports from Jammu indicated that shooting continued throughout the day in a densely populated residential neighborhood, with soldiers fighting the gunmen holed up in a two-story house. By evening, security forces were negotiating with the gunmen on the release of the hostages.

India and Pakistan have bitterly contested control of Kashmir since the partition of colonial India in 1947. Relations between them have steadily worsened in recent months, and the hostage-taking occurred on the heels of violent protests by Hindu and Muslim groups in Jammu and Kashmir state, the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.