- - Thursday, May 5, 2011

HOUSING

Rate on 30-year fixed mortgage falls

NEW YORK — Fixed mortgage rates dipped to the lowest level of the year this week. The third straight weekly decline comes at the start of the peak buying season.

Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.71 percent from 4.78 percent the previous week. That matched this year’s low reached in January. But it is above the 40-year low of 4.17 percent hit in November.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage slipped to 3.89 percent from 3.97 percent. It reached 3.57 percent in November, the lowest level on records dating back to 1991.

COMMERCE

Wal-Mart remains atop Fortune 500 list

NEW YORKWal-Mart Stores Inc. remains atop the Fortune 500 list even as it struggled to keep its U.S. customers coming in the door.

The world’s largest retailer held onto the top spot for the second year in a row thanks to gains at its international stores. The company’s U.S. division has had seven straight quarters of declines in revenue at stores open at least a year compared with the same periods the year before.

Fortune Magazine, which ranked companies based on revenue for 2010, released its annual list on Thursday. It was filled with examples of how rising fuel prices are affecting the economy. Wal-Mart was followed by the three largest American oil companies: Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

EUROPE

Central bank slows pace of rate hikes

FRANKFURT, Germany — European Central Bank head Jean-Claude Trichet offered struggling Greece, Portugal and Ireland a little bit of relief Thursday by signaling that the bank would not raise interest rates as fast as the markets had been expecting.

Though the bank left its key rate unchanged at 1.25 percent, as expected, at a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, the euro suffered one of its worst days this year after Mr. Trichet signaled that another rate hike next month was not likely.

He said the bank would “monitor very closely” all risks to inflation, language that economists say indicates no rate increase at next month’s meeting. Though an increase in July is still expected, the pause gives some breathing space to the eurozone’s three bailout victims, particularly to Greece as it tries to dispel fears that it will renege on its debt deals.

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