European Central Bank likely to raise interest rate

The head of the European Central Bank is signaling a likely interest rate hike in July.

Jean-Claude Trichet said the bank was exercising “strong vigilance” against inflation — regarded as code for an increase at the next month’s meeting.

His comments Thursday came after the bank left its key rate unchanged at 1.25 percent.

Trichet says the bank must make sure that higher oil and commodity prices do not fuel a wage/price spiral as most of Europe’s economy grows.

A rate increase would confirm the bank’s commitment to fight inflation, but could make life harder for Ireland, Greece, and Portugal, which are struggling with heavy debts.

Mortgage rates down again, but housing still depressed

Fixed mortgage rates have dropped for an eighth straight week, but the low rates have done little to boost the depressed housing market.

The average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.49 percent from 4.55 percent, Freddie Mac said Thursday. The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinance option, slipped to 3.68 percent from 3.74 percent. Both are lows for the year.

Lubrizol shareholders support Berkshire offerA majority of Lubrizol shareholders support Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s $9 billion offer to buy the specialty chemical company for $135 cash per share.

Lubrizol held a special shareholder meeting Thursday, and 95 percent of the votes cast supported selling Lubrizol to Warren Buffett’s Omaha-based conglomerate.

Oil prices up; forecast sees demand outpacing supply

Oil climbed above $101 per barrel Thursday as investors focused on how the world would meet energy demand in coming months.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for July delivery rose $1.19 to settle at $101.93 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

World oil demand is expected to outpace supplies later this year by the widest margin since 2007. While OPEC has decided not to officially increase oil production, Saudi Arabia and a few other oil-producing nations are expected to boost exports anyway. Analysts aren’t sure if it will be enough to meet demand.

“You see this general nervousness” in the U.S. and Europe, Houston oil analyst Andrew Lipow said.

Maple syrup production in U.S. up 43 percent over 2010

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say 2011 was a sweet year for maple syrup production.

U.S. production of 2.79 million gallons was up 43 percent from 2010, an off year, and easily topped the previous record of 2.40 million gallons, set two years ago.

Vermont led the nation again, with its 1.14-million-gallon total surpassing 1 million gallons for the first time since the 1940s.

New York was second with 564,000 gallons, followed by Maine with 360,000 gallons.

Herman Ortiz of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said national syrup production figures go back only to 1992. But he said New England state records indicate the region produced more maple syrup this year than in any year since 1935.

Among the reasons for production growth were more people, including hobbyists, tapping trees on their properties, vacuum tube systems that pull the sap from trees, saving the labor that used to come from fetching sap buckets, and new taps with valves designed to prevent a longstanding problem for sugar producers — sap flowing back into trees.

The 2010 maple syrup production was 1.96 million gallons, down 19 percent from 2009’s record.