Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Mortgage rate stays steady at 3.53 percent Fewer file claims for jobless benefits U.S. productivity falls by 2 percent
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was unchanged this week near historic lows, while the average rate on the 15-year loan fell. Low mortgage rates could help strengthen the housing recovery.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan stayed at 3.53 percent. That's still near the 3.31 percent rate reached in November, the lowest in records dating to 1971. The rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage dropped to 2.77 percent from 2.81 percent last week. The record low is 2.63 percent.
Cheap mortgages are encouraging more people to buy homes and refinance, trends that could help boost the economy this year.
Increased sales are helping push home prices up steadily, which makes consumers feel wealthier and more likely to spend. In addition, a limited supply of houses for sale has created demand for new construction.
WASHINGTON (Bloomburg) -- Claims for unemployment insurance payments fell last week, returning to levels seen in the second half of 2012.
Applications for jobless benefits dropped 5,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. Economists forecast 360,000 claims, according to the median of 53 estimates in a Bloomberg survey.
Claims, after see-sawing in prior weeks as the government had trouble adjusting the data for seasonal swings, are settling at a level that signals there is little change in the pace of layoffs from last year. The data come after a report last week indicated employers are boosting payrolls at a faster pace as demand holds up.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. worker productivity shrank in the final three months of 2012, although the decline was caused by temporary factors.
Productivity contracted at an annual rate of 2 percent in the October-December quarter, the biggest drop since the first quarter of 2011, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Productivity had risen at a 3.2 percent rate in the July-September quarter.
Labor costs rose at a 4.5 percent rate in the fourth quarter, the fastest gain since the first quarter of 2012.
Productivity is the amount of output per hour of work. It shrank in the fourth quarter because economic activity contracted while hours worked rose. The economy declined at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the last three months of 2012, a drop caused mainly by defense cuts and slower restocking, changes not expected to last.