Home contract signings decline for third month

The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes fell for the third straight month in September after the spring-and-summer peak buying season failed to entice new buyers.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that its index of sales agreements fell 4.6 percent last month to a reading of 84.5.

A reading of 100 is considered healthy. The last time the index reached that high was in April 2010, the final month that buyers could qualify for a federal tax credit that has since expired.

Contract signings are usually a reliable indicator of where the housing market is headed. There’s typically a one- to two-month lag between a contract and a completed deal.

Jobless applications dip,stay stuck above 400,000

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dipped slightly last week, though not by enough to suggest that hiring is picking up.

Weekly applications for unemployment benefits declined 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 402,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the fourth drop in six weeks.

Still, the four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 405,500. The average had fallen to a six-month low two weeks ago.

Applications have been stuck above 400,000 for all but two weeks since March. Applications need to fall consistently below 375,000 to signal sustainable job growth. They haven’t been below that level since February.

Average mortgage rates seeing little or no change

The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was nearly unchanged for a second straight week after rising from a record low.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.10 percent from 4.11 percent last week. Three weeks ago, it dropped to 3.94 percent. The National Bureau of Economic Research said that’s the lowest rate ever.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage was unchanged at 3.38 percent. Three weeks ago, it hit a record low of 3.26 percent.

Low rates have done little to jolt the struggling housing market.

High unemployment and declining wages have made it harder for many people to qualify for loans. Most of those who can afford to refinance already have.

HP decides against selling, spinning off PC business

Hewlett-Packard Co. said Thursday that it has decided against spinning off or selling its Personal Systems Group unit.

The PC manufacturer said that it reached its decision after evaluating the strategic, financial and operational impact of spinning off the business unit – the world’s biggest manufacturer of desktop and notebook computers for consumers and businesses.

The unit supplies a third of HP’s revenue, but is its least profitable division.

Hewlett-Packard President and CEO Meg Whitman said keeping the unit is right for the company, its customers, shareholders and business partners.

A month before her appointment in September, former CEO Leo Apotheker said the PC business would go up for sale in a badly blundered announcement that hastened his demise.

Chrysler earns $212 million as sales grow 24 percent

Chrysler says it earned $212 million in the third quarter as car and truck sales grew 24 percent.

It was the company’s second profitable quarter this year, and a sign that its turnaround is taking hold after 2009’s bankruptcy protection. In the third quarter of last year, Chrysler lost $84 million.

The company says its profit was driven by increased demand for its new or revamped Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles.

— From news service reports