Mortgage rates inch up, but homeowners still wary

The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage edged up this week as bond yields increased.

Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate rose to 4.81 percent this week from 4.80 percent the previous week. It hit a 40-year low of 4.17 percent in November.

The average rate on the 15-year loan slipped to 4.08 percent from 4.09 percent. It reached 3.57 percent in November, the lowest level on records starting in 1991.

Rates have been little changed this year after spiking more than half a percentage point in the last two months of 2010. Investors sold off Treasury bonds during that time, driving yields lower. Mortgage rates tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note.

High foreclosures, job worries and expectations that home prices will fall further have kept many potential homebuyers on the sidelines.

Historically low mortgage rates haven’t been enough to jump-start the housing market.

Manufacturing, service activity may boost hiring

Activity at manufacturing and service companies has reached a level not seen since before the recession, suggesting a stronger year for hiring.

Some economists are even hopeful that today’s employment report may be better than first thought, based on new economic data reported Thursday.

The service sector, which employs nearly 90 percent of the work force, is expanding at the fastest pace in five years. Factories are cranking out goods, retail sales are up, and many companies can no longer expand without adding more employees.

Inflation is under control in eurozone, official says

Inflationary pressures in the 17-nation eurozone remain in check despite a spike in prices on the back of higher energy and commodity costs, the European Central Bank’s president said Thursday — a report that was less hawkish than expected and prompted the euro to fall sharply.

Jean-Claude Trichet’s comments came after the bank’s governing council decided unanimously to leave its main interest rate unchanged at 1 percent for the 21st consecutive month.

That decision was expected.

BJ’s stock jumps on news company might be for sale

Warehouse club operator BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. said Thursday it is considering selling itself after months of buyout speculation.

The company said Thursday that it is evaluating its strategic options and has hired Morgan Stanley & Co. as its financial adviser.

Its stock jumped $5.46, or 12.7 percent, to $48.47 in morning trading.

BJ’s, based in Westborough, Mass., has been rumored as a possible takeover target since July, when Leonard Green & Partners LP bought a 9.5 percent stake.

Leonard Green & Partners is not new to retail buyouts, announcing in December that it would buy fabric and craft store chain Jo-Ann Stores Inc. for about $1.6 billion. It is also involved in the $3 billion deal for J. Crew Group Inc.

Online TV provider Hulu nears 1 million subscribers

Hulu Plus, the video subscription plan that charges $8 a month to watch a range of TV shows online, will have 1 million paying customers this year and post annual revenue of more than $200 million, according to Hulu’s chief executive Jason Kilar.

The details, made clear in a blog post late Wednesday came on the heels of the announcement of a new content distribution deal with Viacom Inc. to replay hit shows like MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” The shows, which also include “Tosh.0” and “Hot in Cleveland” will be available to subscribers 21 days after they first run on television and after Viacom has a chance to show reruns on its websites.