- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2010

STATE OF THE UNION

Va. governor to deliver GOP response

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell will deliver the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday.

Republican leaders in Congress announced the decision Thursday in a statement that Mr. McDonnell “understands that the American people are more interested in shrinking unemployment than expanding government.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Mr. McDonnell “an impressive public servant and an excellent choice to offer Republican solutions for our country.” Mr. McDonnell was inaugurated last Saturday. He won the Democratic-held governorship last fall, one of two major Republican victories. The party also unseated a Democrat in New Jersey.

MORTGAGE RATES

30-year home loan average at 4.99%

Rates for 30-year home loans fell to a shade below 5 percent this week but remained above last month’s record lows.

The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.99 percent, down from 5.06 percent a week earlier, mortgage company Freddie Mac said Thursday.

It was the third-straight weekly decline. The drop came after interest rates fell in the bond market this week as concerns about the economy increased demand for the safety of government debt, which is closely tied to mortgage rates.

Freddie Mac collects mortgage rates on Monday through Wednesday of each week from lenders across the country. Rates often fluctuate significantly, even within a given day, often in line with long-term Treasury bonds.

Rates for 30-year loans had dropped to a record low of 4.71 percent in early December, pushed down by an aggressive government campaign to reduce consumers’ borrowing costs.

The Federal Reserve is pumping $1.25 trillion into mortgage-backed securities to try to bring down mortgage rates, but that money is set to run out in the spring. The goal of the program is to make home buying more affordable and prop up the housing market.

LABOR DEPARTMENT

Initial jobless claims unexpectedly rise

The number of newly laid-off workers seeking jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week, as the job market recovers at a slow and uneven pace.

The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for unemployment insurance rose by 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 482,000. Wall Street economists had expected a small drop.

A Labor Department analyst said that much of the increase is because of administrative backlogs left over from the winter holidays in the state agencies that process the claims.

The total number of people receiving benefits, meanwhile, rose sharply as more recipients began receiving emergency extended benefits from the federal government.

TRADE

U.S. wants to double smaller exporters

The United States wants to double the number of small- and medium-sized businesses that export to create more good-paying jobs, the top U.S. trade official said Thursday.

“One great way to get America back to work is to get small businesses exporting,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said at a conference on how the U.S. government can help get more small companies involved in trade.

“A big part of our goal today is to demystify this process. Because too many of our small businesses think this is great for the big guys … but for my small business it doesn’t work,” Mr. Kirk said.

Only about 1 percent of the 30 million small- and medium-sized businesses in the United States currently export. Many of those companies export products to only one foreign country, most often to Mexico or Canada.

STATE DEPARTMENT

Passport snoop gets probation

A State Department worker has been sentenced to a year of probation for illegally looking up passport applications of at least 70 celebrities and others.

Susan Holloman, 58, had pleaded guilty in November to a single count of unauthorized computer access.

The woman, of the District, is among a small group of current or former State Department employees or contractors to plead guilty after a criminal investigation into passport file snooping.

Prosecutors say the passport files accessed in 2007 included celebrities and their families, actors, professional athletes and musicians.

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