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LOS ANGELES-Analysts and Southland property investors officially enter mid-summer today in a cautious mood, trying to make sense of a pair of new reports that give conflicting clues about the direction of the state and national economy.

The two reports were released on Friday. In the first, California’s Employment Development Department says that continuing layoffs in the dot-com sector and related problems combined to push the state’s unemployment rate up from 4.9% in May to 5.1% in June. It was the fourth straight monthly increase and raised the jobless figure to its highest level in a year.

Moreover, the report says, a mere 3,600 jobs were created across the state last month–compared to an average of 46,200 jobs that were created in California every month in 2000. “The economy just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere right now,” says Brad Williams, senior economist for the state’s legislative analyst’s office.

The state’s downbeat report was tempered by brighter news from the US Commerce Department, which said Friday that consumer spending across the nation rose for the third straight month in June. Spending was particularly strong on new cars and light trucks, which analysts say not only indicates that consumers are still confident enough to make major purchases but could also portend a comeback in the nation’s battered manufacturing sector later this year.

Williams is among the analysts who think businesses will invest more in new plants and equipment in the second half of this year or in early 2002, spurred in part by the series of interest rate cuts engineered by the Federal Reserve Board over the past several months. Typically, analysts say, it takes at least six months for the economy to react to the Fed’s moves.

Other economists aren’t as optimistic. A forecast released earlier this month by the UCLA Anderson School of Business, which has received high marks for its accuracy over the years, says the US will almost certainly slip into a recession in coming months but that Southern California’s economy won’t suffer as badly as the nation’s as a whole.

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