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Economy Briefs: Aid applications up by only 2,000

- - Thursday, August 16, 2012

Labor

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits edged up slightly last week but remained at a level consistent with modest gains in hiring.

Unemployment benefit applications rose by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 366,000, the Labor Department said. The less volatile four-week average fell by 5,500 to 363,750. That was the lowest level since late March.

Applications have trended lower in the past two months, indicating companies are laying off fewer workers and hiring is picking up. When applications fall consistently below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

"Claims so far in August have declined moderately compared to July, suggesting some improvement in the U.S. job environment. And that's good news," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.

The total number of people receiving some kind of unemployment assistance also fell, dipping to 5.68 million for the week ending July 28, 70,000 below the previous week.

The decline in the number of people applying for weekly unemployment benefits has been one of several signs that the economy and hiring rebounded in July after falling into a spring slump.

Employers added 163,000 jobs in July, the most since February. Job gains averaged only 73,000 jobs a month from April through June, not enough to keep up with a rising population. The unemployment rate blipped up to 8.3 percent, from 8.2 percent.

MORTGAGES

Rate on 30-year loans rises to 3.62 percent

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages ticked up for the third straight week, staying slightly above record lows. Cheap mortgages have helped fuel a modest housing recovery this year.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year loan increased to 3.62 percent, up from 3.59 percent last week. Three weeks ago, the rate fell to 3.49 percent, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinancing option, rose to 2.88 percent. That's up from 2.84 percent last week and record low of 2.80 percent three weeks ago.

The availability of low rates has lifted home sales higher this year. Home prices have also increased, largely because the supply of homes has shrunk while sales have risen. And builder confidence is at its highest level since March 2007, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders.

Homebuilders broke ground on slightly fewer homes in July, down from June when they started homes at the fastest pace since October 2008. Single-family homes and apartments started in July dipped 1.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 746,000, the government said Thursday.

SEC

Oracle paying $2M to settle charges

Software maker Oracle Corp. is agreeing to pay $2 million to settle federal civil charges of failing to prevent secret payments in its sales operations in India.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced the settlement Thursday. The SEC said Oracle violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by allowing its Indian subsidiary to secretly set aside money that went to phony local vendors. Oracle ran the risk of the secret funds being used for bribes, the SEC said.

The agency said the violations occurred from 2005 to 2007. It said the subsidiary sold software licenses and services to the Indian government and kept some of the sale proceeds off Oracle's books.

Oracle, based in Redwood Shores, Calif., neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing in the settlement.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports