Business digest: Jobless claims fewest since November 2007

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Posted: Friday, August 9, 2013 12:00 am

Americans who have a job may take comfort in knowing that companies are laying off fewer people than at any time since before the Great Recession. The government said Thursday that weekly applications for U.S. unemployment benefits have averaged 335,500 over the past month. That’s the lowest level since November 2007, which was one month before the recession began. But while most companies have stopped cutting jobs, many remain reluctant to hire. That’s bad news for the roughly 11.5 million Americans who are unemployed and a major reason the unemployment rate is still so high four years after the recession officially ended.

Mortgage rates barely change

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages barely changed this week. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average on the 30-year loan edged up to 4.40 percent from 4.39 percent last week. The rate is a full percentage point higher than in early May, when rates neared record lows. But rates remain low by historical standards. The average on the 15-year fixed loan was unchanged at 3.43 percent. The low rates have boosted home sales and prices. On Thursday, the National Association of Realtors said that prices for single-family homes climbed in 87 percent of U.S. cities in the second quarter. The median price for an existing single-family home was $203,500 nationally in the second quarter, up 12 percent from a year earlier. That was the biggest gain since the fourth quarter of 2005, according to the Realtors group.

Retailers see slow start to school shopping

Shoppers are holding off on back-to-school shopping, and those who delay long enough might be rewarded with some steep discounts. Revenue at stores open at least a year — an industry measure of a retailer’s health— rose 3.5 percent in July, the slowest pace since March, according to a tally of 11 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The figure, which excludes drugstores, was below a 5.5 percent increase in June. Costco Wholesale Corp., typically a strong performer, was among the retailers reporting disappointing figures. Many stores were already offering discounts and other come-ons to get shoppers to spend on the new shipments of fall clothing that started flowing in mid-July. But experts say even more deals are coming this month as stores try to boost sales for the back-to-school season, which runs from mid-July through mid-September.

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