WASHINGTON

Weekly claims for jobless benefits fall to rare low

Fewer people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, another sign the job market is improving.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly claims for jobless aid fell 14,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 298,000.

“Readings at or below the (300,000) mark are extremely rare in an historical context,” Robert Kavcic, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients. “Going back to 1990, we’ve seen it only for a short period during the height of the technology bubble and very briefly in early 2006 when the housing market boom was peaking.”

Employers aren’t just keeping workers. They’re hiring, too. They added 209,000 jobs in July, the sixth straight month that job gains exceeded 200,000. The economy has generated 244,000 new jobs a month since February.

Sales of existing homes rise for 4th straight month

A fourth straight monthly increase in sales of existing homes provided the latest evidence Thursday that the U.S. housing market is rebounding from a weak start to the year.

Housing has been a drag on an otherwise strengthening economy, in part because a harsh winter delayed many sales. But Americans are stepping up purchases as more homes have been put up for sale. And low mortgage rates and moderating price gains have made homes more affordable.

“The momentum is in the right direction,” said Andrew Labelle, an economist at TD Bank who noted that the past four months have marked the fastest four-month sales gain since 2011.

Sales of existing homes rose 2.4 percent in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.15 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday.

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill.

Sears Holdings reports hefty second-quarter loss

Sears Holdings Inc. recorded a hefty second-quarter loss Thursday on another sales slump, raising more concerns about the future of a company that once was a staple of American shopping.

The company, which operates Sears and Kmart, said it plans to do more cost-cutting to right the ship. But investors weren’t encouraged. They sent shares down 4 percent in premarket trading.

Sears, controlled by billionaire hedge fund investor Edward Lampert, lost $573 million, or $5.39 per share, for the period ended Aug. 2. That’s more than double the loss of $194 million, or $1.83 per share, a year earlier. It marked its ninth straight quarterly loss.

One bright spot was online and multi-channel sales, which increased 18 percent.

– From news service reports