- - Thursday, November 1, 2012

LABOR

Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 363,000 last week, a level consistent with modest hiring.

The report comes just before Friday’s October jobs data, the last broad snapshot of the economy before the presidential election Tuesday. The still-weak job market has been a top issue for voters.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average of applications for unemployment aid, a less volatile gauge, declined to 367,250. The average has been around that level for three months.

A department spokesman said superstorm Sandy had no direct effect on the number of applicants. The report covered the week ending Oct. 27, before the storm reached shore.

CONSUMERS

Economy gets lift ahead of final jobless report before election

Reports on Thursday showed that U.S. consumers are growing more confident and spending more, boosting a still-weak economy just five days before the presidential election.

Consumer confidence surged in October to its highest level in nearly five years. Americans were encouraged by recent declines in the jobless rate. And they responded by spending more on cars and trucks, at retail businesses and on goods produced at U.S. factories.

Still, businesses remain nervous about where the economy is headed and that could weigh on hiring. The October jobs report, to be released Friday, is expected to show another month of tepid job growth. Superstorm Sandy could also slow economic growth slightly in the final months of the year.

MORTGAGE

Average rate on 30-year mortgage loan dips to 3.39% from 3.41%

The average U.S. rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage slipped this week and stayed near its record low, a trend that’s helped boost home sales and refinancing.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan declined to 3.39 percent from 3.41 percent last week. Four weeks ago, the rate touched 3.36 percent, the lowest level on records dating to 1971.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage, often used for refinancing, fell to 2.70 percent. That’s down from 2.72 percent last week and close to the record low of 2.66 percent reached two weeks ago.

RETAIL

Spending gains in October could cannibalize holiday sales

NEW YORK — Americans spent briskly in October before superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast at the end of the month. But the question is whether they’re still willing to buy an iPhone for Christmas if they plunked down hundreds on a generator for Sandy?

The storm, which hit the East Coast on Monday, did not appear to negatively impact sales during the month: Twenty-one retailers from club operator Costco to department store Macy’s reported that sales in October through last Saturday were up 5 percent compared with the year-ago period, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, beating the trade group’s estimated growth of 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports