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Weekly US jobless claims hit 9-month high of 379K

Updated: Friday, December 20, 2013 |
Weekly US jobless claims hit 9-month high of 379K story image
WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 379,000, the highest since March. The increase may reflect volatility around the Thanksgiving holidays.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average jumped 13,250 to 343,250, the second straight increase.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Last month, they fell to nearly the lowest level in six years, as companies cut fewer jobs. But two weeks ago, they surged 64,000 to 369,000.

Economists dismissed that spike, saying it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month. That can distort the government's seasonal adjustments. But if the trend continues it would be a troubling sign of rising layoffs.

The number of people receiving benefits rose sharply. More than 4.4 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ended Nov. 30, the latest data available. That was 600,000 more than the previous week. Those figures aren't adjusted for seasonal patterns.

Still, most other recent job market data has been positive and economists generally expect unemployment benefits applications will soon fall back.

"We are inclined to ignore the recent claims data," said Joseph LaVorgna, an economist at Deutsche Bank. "We see little evidence to suggest that the labor market trend of the past few months has meaningfully changed."

Hiring has been healthy for the past four months. The economy added an average of 204,000 jobs a month from August through November, a solid improvement from earlier in the year. The unemployment rate fell in November to a five-year low of 7 percent.

The unemployment rate remains above the historic averages of 5 percent to 6 percent that are associated with strong job markets.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that he expects the robust job gains to continue. Americans are spending more and the economy is less restrained by higher taxes and government spending cuts, he said.

Those trends have "increased our confidence that the job market gains will continue," Bernanke said at a press conference.

The Fed said Wednesday that it would scale back its monthly bond purchases to $75 billion from $85 billion. The purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates and encourage more spending. The cut suggests that Fed policymakers think the job market and economy will continue to improve even with less help from the Fed.
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Last Update on October 30, 2014 17:28 GMT

ECONOMY-GDP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy grew at a solid annual rate of 3.5 percent in the July-September quarter, propelled by solid gains in business investment, export sales and the biggest jump in military spending in five years.

The Commerce Department says that the third quarter result followed a 4.6 percent rebound in the second quarter. The economy shrank at a 2.1 percent rate in the first three months of the year due to a harsh winter.

The report was the first of three estimates of the gross domestic product, the economy's total output of goods and services. Economists believe the economy is maintaining momentum in the current quarter with consumer spending expected to be helped by a big fall in gas prices.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose slightly last week, but remained at historically low levels that signal a strengthening job market.

The Labor Department says weekly applications increased 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 287,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 250 to 281,000, the lowest level in more than 14 years.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs and have fallen 20 percent in the past year. The steady decline suggests that businesses are sufficiently confident in the economy to hold onto their staffs. That same confidence could lead them to step up hiring.

The economy expanded at a solid annual rate of 3.5 percent in the July-September quarter, according to a separate government report. That's healthy enough to encourage more hiring.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. long-term mortgage rates arrested their five-week decline this week but the benchmark 30-year loan remained below 4 percent.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage rose to 3.98 percent from 3.92 percent last week. It remained at its lowest level since June 2013. The rate stood at 4.53 percent back in January.

The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, increased to 3.13 percent from 3.08 percent.

The sustained decline in long-term rates sparked a boomlet of homeowners looking to refinance mortgages. Homeowners eager for a bargain rate fired off inquiries to lenders. Applications for "re-fi's" reached their highest level since November 2013 in the week ended Oct. 17, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

BABY FORMULA

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal regulators are suing baby food-maker Gerber for claiming that its Good Start Gentle formula can prevent or reduce allergies in children.

The Federal Trade Commission says that claim is bogus and that the New Jersey-based company misled consumers by suggesting the formula was the first to meet government approval for reducing the risk of allergies.

The FTC says it wants Gerber to remove that claim from formula labels and advertisements. The agency also wants Gerber to reimburse consumers who have bought the formula since 2011, when the claim began.

Gerber Products Co., also known as NestlT Infant Nutrition, says in a statement that it believes it has met all legal requirements about product claims.

WAL-MART-PRICE MATCH

NEW YORK (AP) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is considering matching online prices from competitors like Amazon.com, raising the stakes for the holiday shopping season.

The world's largest retailer, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, has matched prices of local store competitors but hadn't followed moves by other retailers like Best Buy or Target to match prices of online rivals. It said it has been testing the strategy in certain markets and is trying to figure out whether to go ahead.

The strategy comes as Wal-Mart is trying to rev up sluggish sales in the U.S. but it could also erode profits.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman says many store managers have matched online prices for customers on a case-by-case basis.

The move was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

MICROSOFT-FITNESS DATA

UNDATED (AP) -- Microsoft is looking to challenge Apple and Google with its own system for consolidating health and fitness data from various fitness gadgets and mobile apps. Microsoft is also releasing a $199 fitness band to work with this system.

As more athletes and recreationalists track their fitness, a chief frustration has been the inability to bring data from one gadget into an app made by a rival. As a result, nutrition information might reside in one place, while data on calories burned might be in another. Consolidating data gives users and health professionals a bigger picture on health.

Microsoft Health follows the launch of Apple's HealthKit in September and Google Fit earlier this week. Unlike rival systems, Microsoft Health will work with competing phones, not just those running Windows.

SPAIN-GOOGLE

MADRID (AP) -- Spain's parliament has approved new intellectual property laws that allow news publishers to charge aggregators each time they display news content in search results.

The law goes into effect Jan. 1 but does not specify how much aggregators like Google News could be charged. Spain's AEDE group of news publishers had lobbied for what is known as the "Google Tax" but has not provided specifics.

Google Inc.'s Spanish division said Thursday it was disappointed with the outcome and will work with Spanish news publishers to help them increase income.

Google last year agreed to help French news organizations increase online advertising revenue and fund digital publishing innovations to settle a dispute there over whether it should pay for news content in its search results.

CHINA-LENOVO-MOTOROLA

BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese computer maker Lenovo Group has completed its acquisition of Motorola Mobility from Google Inc. in a move aimed at becoming a global smartphone brand.

Lenovo said it completed the $2.9 billion purchase on Thursday, adding to a flurry of acquisitions and initiatives aimed at transforming the world's biggest maker of personal computers into a major player in wireless computing.

Google bought Motorola Mobility in 2012 for $12.4 billion but appeared to decide quickly the purchase was a mistake. It sold its set-top operations to Arris Group Inc. for $2.35 billion and its smartphone assets, along with some 2,000 patents, to Lenovo.

Lenovo chairman Yang Yuanqing said when the purchase was announced in January that it would help transform Lenovo into a global competitor in smartphones.

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