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Factory orders shot up 1.3 percent in December, the first advance in three months for what has been a sluggish sector of the economy.

The Commerce Department said Thursday orders for both durable and nondurable goods totaled a seasonally adjusted $308.1 billion, up from $304.1 billion in November when orders slipped 0.1 percent.As a result, orders for all of 1995 were up 6.6 percent from 1994 compared with a 10.3 percent gain a year earlier.

Orders, considered a key gauge of the nation's manufacturing health, had fallen 0.6 percent in October after jumping 1.4 percent in September. The December advance was only the fifth of the year and exceeded the expectations of many analysts.

The report combined the statistics for November and December, originally scheduled for Jan. 4 and Feb. 2 respectively but delayed by government shutdowns due to the budget impasse and the January blizzard.

Orders for durable goods, items such as turbines and tractors expected to last more than three years, rose 2.1 percent after falling 0.8 percent in November and 1.5 percent in October.

Orders for nondurable goods such as food and fuel edged up 0.3 percent following increases of 0.8 percent in November and 0.5 percent in October.

Manufacturing was in the doldrums for much of 1995, with the Labor Department reporting factory employment on a downward trend since April.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said Thursday the number of new claims for jobless benefits rose 21,000 to 387,000 last week, the first advance in three weeks.

Claims had been falling after reaching 412,000 during the week of Jan. 20, the week after the blizzard when analysts said many filings had been delayed because of storm-closed unemployment offices.

Inventories, another sign of future activity, rose a slight 0.1 percent, resulting in a 1.36 inventories-to-shipments ratio. That meant it would take 1.36 months to exhaust stockpiles at the December shipment pace rate.