Jobless claims fall again, signaling easing of layoffs

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped by 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 316,000, a sign that workers are in less danger of being laid off.

The less volatile four-week average fell 7,500 to 331,750, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Both the first-time weekly jobless claims and the average have returned to pre-recession levels.

Unemployment benefit applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have fallen in six of the past seven weeks.

A government spokesman said there were no special factors that drove claims lower but cautioned that it can be difficult to seasonally adjust in late November because the Thanksgiving holiday occurs at different times each year.

Businesses retreat from purchasing durable goods

Businesses spent less last month on machinery, computers and most other items, lowering orders for U.S. long-lasting factory goods. The decline suggests companies may have been reluctant to invest during the 16-day partial government shutdown.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for durable goods dropped 2 percent in October from September. That follows a 4.1 percent increase in September from August.

Durable goods are meant to last at least three years.

Leading indicators index rises 0.2% in October

A measure of the U.S. economy’s health improved in October, suggesting consumers and businesses mostly shrugged off the 16-day partial government shutdown.

The Conference Board said Wednesday that its index of leading indicators rose 0.2 percent in October to a reading of 97.5. It was the sixth gain in seven months and followed large gains in the previous two months.

The index is designed to signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.

Mortgage rates up slightly, but still near historic lows

Average U.S. mortgage rates rose modestly this week, a move that makes home-buying a bit less affordable. Still, rates remain near historically low levels.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Wednesday that the average rate on the 30-year loan increased to 4.29 percent from 4.22 percent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed ticked up to 3.3 percent from 3.27 percent.

Rates have risen nearly a full percentage point since May after the Federal Reserve signaled it might slow its bond purchases by the end of the year. Rates peaked at nearly 4.6 percent in August. But the Fed held off in September and most analysts expect it won’t move until next year.

The increase in mortgage rates has contributed to a slowdown in home sales over the past two months.

– From news service reports