Dollars & Sense

Mortgage rates dip following rescue bill

Rates on 30-year mortgages, which shot up last week to the highest level in nearly a year, dropped slightly this week after passage of a housing rescue bill. Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the nationwide average for 30-year mortgages dipped to 6.52 percent this week, down from 6.63 percent last week. While the new level still was the second-highest this year, it was down slightly from last week when investors were concerned about financial troubles at Freddie and Fannie Mae, which hold or guarantee nearly half of the nation's mortgages.

Stimulus helped but GDP still sluggish

The prospects for a quick economic recovery dimmed Thursday, with new data showing the economy grew at a slower-than-expected rate this spring despite some oomph from tax rebate checks -- and actually shrank late last year. Armed with government stimulus checks of up to $600 per person, Americans boosted spending on food, clothing and other items in the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported. But the gross domestic product still increased at a 1.9 percent annual rate, up from 0.9 percent in the first quarter but less than the 2.4 percent economists were looking for. Government revisions showed the economy shrank at the end of last year at a 0.2 percent annual rate. It was the first quarterly dip for the GDP since the 2001 recession. Meanwhile, the Labor Department said the number of newly laid-off people rose to 448,000 last week, the most in five years.

Crops and livestock prices up this year

The cost of crops and livestock is up 16 percent this year compared with last year, driven higher by rising costs for feedstock and fuel. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released today shows that prices for farm products rose 1.9 percent in June alone. Crops such as wheat and soybeans rose 1.6 percent while the price of livestock rose less than 1 percent. The annual report measures the price that farmers receive for their goods, not the ultimate price that consumers pay for food. Crops and livestock costs amount to a fraction of the final cost of food, after transportation, packaging and marketing are factored in.

Coming SaturdayA Fremont company has created a sunscreen that's applied to fruits and vegetables to protect crops from sun damage.