April 12, 2013

Briefcase

Aid application drop hints of a stronger job market

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to a seasonally adjusted 346,000, signaling the job market might be stronger than March's weak month of hiring suggested.

Applications for aid dropped 42,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The decline nearly reversed an increase over the previous three weeks. The four-week average, a steadier measure, rose 3,000 to 358,000.

The number of unemployment applications has been volatile in the past two weeks largely because of the Easter holiday, a department spokesman said. The timing of the holiday changes from year to year. That makes it hard to adjust for school holidays and other changes that can cause temporary layoffs.

Rates on fixed mortgages sink toward historic lows

Average rates on fixed-interest mortgages fell sharply this week and moved closer to historic lows, keeping home-buying and refinancing attractive.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan fell to 3.43 percent from 3.54 percent last week. That's near the 3.31 percent reached in November, the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage dipped to 2.65 percent from 2.74 percent last week. That's slightly above the record low of 2.63 percent, also reached in November.

Cold weather puts damper on sales of summer clothes

So much for new spring shorts and T-shirts. As cold weather lingered across most of the country, Americans shopped modestly in March.

U.S. retailers reported a key revenue figure rose only slightly during the month. According to a preliminary tally of 15 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers, revenue in stores open at least a year rose 1.6 percent, or 2.5 percent, excluding drugstores.

That was below expectations, said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the ICSC. Economists monitor consumer spending because it accounts for more than 70 percent of economic activity.

Burger King CEO tapped to be top Heinz executive

The new owners of Heinz are tapping Burger King CEO Bernardo Hees as the company's next top executive, a move that installs one of their own at the helm of the ketchup maker.

It also signals other big changes could be in store for the 144-year-old company, which had been run by CEO William Johnson for the past 15 years.

The Pittsburgh-based company, which makes baked beans, vinegar and pasta sauce -- as well as its namesake ketchup -- announced in February that it was being acquired and taken private by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, a private investment firm run by Brazilian billionaires.

-- From news service reports

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