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Durable goods orders rise; jobless claims climb

A lackluster report on durable goods on Thursday resurrected doubts about the sustainability of a recovery for manufacturing. In addition, the number of people filing unemployment claims touched a three-month high, and a barometer of home prices unexpectedly fell.

Orders for durable goods, items like refrigerators and computers that are expected to last three years, rose 3 percent in January. The Commerce Department attributed the gain largely to a 126 percent increase in commercial aircraft goods. A closely watched measure that excludes volatile transportation orders and military goods fell 2.9 percent, suggesting that businesses remained timid about spending.

A separate report on the labor market on Thursday said that first-time unemployment claims rose much more than expected last week — up 22,000, to 496,000 — the highest level in more than three months. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected claims to drop by 13,000.

Another Madoff aide faces fraud charges

A senior executive who worked for Bernard L. Madoff for more than 30 years was arrested Thursday on federal fraud and conspiracy charges, including claims that he had helped Madoff survive a cash crisis that almost derailed the gigantic Ponzi scheme five years ago.

The executive, Daniel Bonventre, 63, joined the Madoff firm in 1968 and served as its director of operations, overseeing the back-office record-keeping staff, since at least 1978. He was arrested by federal agents at about 6 a.m. on Thursday at his apartment on East 79th Street.

In a criminal complaint filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Bonventre was accused of doctoring records to conceal for a decade that the firm was being propped up with money illegally siphoned from investor accounts and had borrowed money to cover withdrawals from the Ponzi scheme during a cash shortage that began in late 2005.

The U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, said the fake records “effectively hid the doomed state of an investment firm founded in fraud,” adding that his investigation into “this colossal deception” was continuing.

In a parallel case, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil fraud complaint against Bonventre, accusing him of helping “manufacture persuasive lies” that had concealed the fraud from regulators and investors.

As fighting subsides, Afghans plant a flag in Marjah

MARJAH, AFGHANISTAN — The black, red and green flag of Afghanistan was hoisted over the center of this onetime Taliban stronghold on Thursday, as Afghan officials symbolically claimed control after a major American-led military offensive.

While this city has emerged from the worst of the fighting, there were reports of scattered battles to the north of Marjah, and American and Afghan troops continued to pursue Taliban militants. The militaries now face formidable challenges in securing the city enough for the government to begin to provide the services they hope will win people’s loyalty.

Residents who fled began to return, and some markets reopened Thursday. But there is little food because the major road into Marjah is still mined, and the city remains a dangerous labyrinth of buried bombs, booby traps and pockets of insurgents.