JPMorgan investigated over possible security violations

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating JPMorgan Chase over mortgage-backed investments the bank sold in the run-up to the financial crisis.

The New York-based bank said in a regulatory filing that it is responding to investigations by the civil and criminal divisions of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California. In May, the civil division informed JPMorgan that it had “preliminarily concluded” that the bank had violated federal securities laws in connection with certain mortgage-backed investments it sold from 2005 to 2007.

A JPMorgan spokeswoman declined to comment.

The disclosure is just the latest in a swirl of mortgage-related lawsuits and investigations that have hammered big U.S. banks in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The banks have been accused of improperly foreclosing on homeowners, discriminating against others and knowingly making loans to people who couldn’t afford them.

Layoffs are down but some companies hesitate to hire

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.

Unemployment applications are a proxy for layoffs. At the depths of the recession, in March 2009, weekly claims surged to 670,000. They have fallen steadily ever since and are now half that level.

The number of first-time applications did rise slightly last week, to a seasonally adjusted 330,000. But that’s just 5,000 higher than the five-and-a-half-year low reached two weeks ago.

Rise in U.S. sales help offset global drop for McDonald’s

McDonald’s says a key sales figure edged up modestly in July, as a bigger push behind its Dollar Menu and Big Mac in the U.S. helped offset declines in other parts of the world.

The world’s biggest hamburger chain says global sales rose 0.7 percent at restaurants open at least 13 months. That included a 1.6 percent increase in the U.S., where it said “everyday value offerings,” breakfast and staples such as the Big Mac drove up results.

McDonald’s stock slipped almost 29 cents to end Thursday trading at $98.04. Over the past year, the stock is up 11 percent.

The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., is trying to juggle a variety of challenges. With people being careful about their spending, the chain has aggressively promoted its Dollar Menu and other deals to bring in customers. Analysts have expressed concern the strategy could eat into profit margins,