Business Digest: Dec. 20

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Posted: Friday, December 20, 2013 12:00 am

Unemployment spike blamed on holiday

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 379,000, the highest since March.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average jumped 13,250 to 343,250, the second straight increase.

Economists dismissed the spike, saying it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month.

More than 4.4 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ended Nov. 30, the latest data available. That was 600,000 more than the previous week.

Leading indicators index beats predictions

The index of U.S. leading indicators rose more than forecast in November.

The Conference Board's index, a gauge of the outlook for the next three to six months, increased 0.8 percent last month after rising 0.1 percent in October, the New York-based group said Thursday.

The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for an advance of 0.7 percent.

Rising stock prices, a firming housing market and gains in the labor market are helping to boost households' spending.

Mortgage rates up slightly

Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages rose slightly this week but remained near historically low levels.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the rate on the 30-year loan increased to 4.47 percent from 4.42 percent last week.

The average on the 15-year fixed loan rose to 3.51 percent from 3.43 percent.

Fewer sales of existing homes

The number of people who bought existing U.S. homes in November declined for the third straight month.

Home resales fell 4.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.90 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday.

Still, the Realtors' group predicts that total sales this year will be 5.1 million. That would be the strongest since 2007.

— From wire reports

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