Economy shows positive signs Manufacturing expanded more than forecast, consumer confidence rose to a four-year high and fewer Americans filed claims for unemployment benefits, new reports showed Thursday, pointing to resilience in the U.S. economy heading into the fourth quarter. Stocks rose on optimism the world's largest economy is weathering a global slowdown and the prospect of $607 billion in federal spending cuts and tax increases set to kick in early next year unless Congress acts. President Obama has said the economy is improving after he averted a deeper recession, while Republican challenger Mitt Romney counters that the president's policies have prevented a faster recovery. Atlantic superstorm Sandy may crimp growth this quarter after it left a trail of destruction in the northeastern United States, keeping millions of people from work, knocking out electric power and disrupting railroads, airlines and subway systems. Consumer sentimentEven so, two years of payroll growth, declining gasoline prices and a nascent housing recovery are helping shore up household balance sheets and bolstering sentiment. The euro-area jobless rate climbed to a record in September as the debt crisis eroded investor and business confidence.