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MORTGAGES

Interest rates fall again, 30-year notes near record low

Fixed mortgage rates fell to at or near record lows. That’s good news for the few who can afford to buy a home or are able to refinance. But the rates have done little to lift the ailing housing market.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 4.32 percent this week from 4.39 percent. The 30-year loan hit a record low of 4.17 percent in mid-November.

The average rate on a 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinancing option, fell to a record low of 3.50 percent, from last week’s record rate of 3.54 percent.

UNEMPLOYMENT

Aid applications at 395,000, a 4-month low for new claims

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week below 400,000 for the first time in four months, a sign that the job market may be improving slowly after a recent slump.

Applications for unemployment aid dropped by 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 395,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Applications had been above 400,000 for the previous 17 weeks.

The four-week average, a less-volatile figure, fell to 405,000, its sixth straight decline and the lowest level since mid-April. That suggests layoffs have eased.

The decline in applications helped lift stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 85 points in the first hour of trading.

Applications fell in February to 375,000, a level that reflects healthy job growth. They soared to an eight-month high of 478,000 in late April, and have declined slowly since then.

There were fewer layoffs last week in the manufacturing, transportation and service industries, according to the report. Only nine states reported an increase in applications.

BOEING

With 19 new 777 orders, backlog for planes grows

Boeing says it has booked 19 new orders for its 777, and it needs to build commercial planes faster to keep up with demand.

Cathay Pacific ordered 12 of the planes. Unidentified customers ordered the other seven 777s.

Boeing now has a backlog of 3,400 planes. Some models are sold out for seven years.

Jim Albaugh, who runs Boeing Co.’s commercial airplane division, said that backlog is too big, and it’s not good to tell customers they have to wait so long.

Boeing is raising production rates. Production of 777s will increase from five per month at the start of this year to more than eight per month by early 2013.

The new 777 orders will be worth more than $5 billion at list prices, although discounts are common.

CROPS

Corn supply tightens for 2012, raising prices

ST. LOUIS | Americans can expect to pay slightly higher food prices next year, because of expectations that an unseasonably hot summer damaged much of this year’s corn crop.

But the rise in grocery prices might not be severe because farmers are sitting on larger supplies ahead of the fall harvest, and demand for corn is falling.

The U.S. Agriculture Department estimated Thursday that the fall harvest won’t yield as much corn as first estimated. High temperatures in key U.S. corn-growing states have damaged about 4 percent of the coming yield.

The price of corn jumped 26 cents to $7.14 a bushel after the report was released. That’s almost twice the price paid last year. But it’s below the record $7.99 reached in June.

UNIONS

Rerun of union vote for Kaiser workers ordered

One of the largest private sector union elections in U.S. history is headed for a do-over.

Labor regulators say about 43,000 California health care workers at Kaiser Permanente will decide once again whether to stay with the giant Service Employees International Union or leave for a much smaller rival.

Last year, workers voted 61 percent to 39 percent to remain with the SEIU. But a judge at the National Labor Relations Board ruled last month that the election was tainted. The judge found that the SEIU led workers to believe they would not get the same raises and benefits if they joined the rival National Union of Healthcare Workers.

The full board agreed that another vote is warranted.

The new union was started by former SEIU leaders who were forced out.

CALIFORNIA

Viacom, Cablevision settle suit over iPad TV app

SAN FRANCISCO | Cablevision Systems Corp. and Viacom Inc., the owner of MTV and other cable TV channels, have settled a lawsuit over software that lets subscribers view Viacom channels and individual shows on demand on their iPads.

Viacom had sought millions of dollars in damages and an injunction preventing Cablevision from offering its Optimum app. Viacom said the app infringes on its copyrights. Cablevision says it’s an extension of a cable service that customers already pay for.

The companies did not give details of the settlement, though they said in a joint statement that they were “able to resolve the iPad matter and an unrelated business matter to their mutual satisfaction.”

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