- - Thursday, August 23, 2012

MORTGAGES

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages have risen for a fourth straight week, remaining 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 3.66 percent, up from 3.62 percent last week. Four weeks ago, the rate was 3.49 percent, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinancing option, edged up to 2.89 percent. That’s up from 2.88 percent last week and from the record low of 2.8 percent four weeks ago.

The availability of low rates has lifted home sales higher this year. Prices also have increased, largely because the supply of homes has shrunk while sales have risen.

Builder confidence is also at its highest level since March 2007, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders.

LABOR

Applications for jobless benefits up slightly

The number of people seeking first-time unemployment benefits rose a slight 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 372,000, evidence that the job market’s recovery remains modest and uneven.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 3,750 to 368,000.

Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall consistently below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

Applications have risen for two straight weeks. Some economists said that indicates that hiring in August may slow from July’s solid gain of 163,000 jobs.

TECHNOLOGY

Facebook updates iPhone appto make it twice as fast

NEW YORK — Facebook wants to address what is perhaps the biggest complaint with its iPhone app: It’s releasing an update that’s faster.

Facebook Inc. says it is launching the newest version of the app Thursday. Rather than add a slew of new features, the company says it rebuilt it from scratch to make it speedier and less clunky.

At a recent demonstration at the company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, the new app loaded about twice as fast as the older version on the iPhone. Photos and comments also load faster, and users can now “like” comments on photos.

Mobile is Facebook’s biggest challenge as well as its biggest opportunity. That’s where its user base is growing the most, but the company has only recently started showing ads there.

REAL ESTATE

New-home sales rise to match 2-year high

Sales of new homes in the United States rose 3.6 percent in July to match a two-year high reached in May, the latest sign of a steady recovery in the housing market.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that new-home sales reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 372,000. That’s the same as in May, which was the highest since April 2010.

The report is “the latest in a series of data points suggesting a durable housing recovery is underway,” Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at BTIG LLC, a brokerage firm, said in a note to clients.

In the past 12 months, sales have jumped 25 percent. Still, the increase is from a historically low level. New-home sales remain well below the annual pace of 700,000 that economists consider healthy.

The housing market is making a modest but steady recovery in part because homes are more affordable: Mortgage rates have fallen to near-record lows. Housing prices are about one-third lower than at the peak of the housing bubble in 2006. Those trends have helped lift sales of both new and previously occupied homes.

Sales of previously occupied homes increased in July from June, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. Sales have jumped 10 percent in the past year.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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