Mortgage rates fall after rising last week
Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, reported Thursday that 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.03 percent for the week ending March 6, erasing last week's upward climb. Other mortgage rates also fell this week. Page D-4
New unemployment claims down sharply
The number of people signing up for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, a spot of welcome news that nonetheless failed to change the overall picture of a softer employment climate. The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance fell by a seasonally adjusted 24,000 to 351,000 for the week ending March 1. A year ago, new filings for unemployment benefits stood at 327,000. The number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits rose by a sharp 29,000 to 2.83 million for the week ending Feb. 23, the highest level since September 2005.
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Retailers get break as spending up a bit
Consumers gave the nation's stores some relief in February, spending a little more freely although they mostly gravitated toward discounters and grocers. The challenge for merchants in coming months is to get shoppers to splurge on spring fashions -- a tough task when Americans are worried about plunging home values, tighter credit and rising gas prices. As retailers reported mixed February sales results Thursday, it was clear that shoppers bought the basics, helping low-price operators such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. exceed Wall Street expectations. But customers largely shunned mall-based apparel stores, hurting merchants such as Gap Inc., Limited Brands Inc. and J.C. Penney Co.
Oil rises, gas prices follow; dollar slides
Crude oil futures rose to another record close Thursday, boosted once more by the dollar's continuing slide to new lows against the euro. At the pump, meanwhile, gas prices extended their own advance toward record levels. The national average price of a gallon of gas rose 0.7 cents overnight to $3.185, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Gas prices are following oil higher, and are expected to peak this spring well above last May's record of $3.227 a gallon.
Got milk? Too much of it, actually. That was the consensus this week at a Modesto gathering of the state's dairy farmers, who said more processing plants are needed to soak up the supply.