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Jobless benefits applications lower; other business briefs

NATION

Jobless benefits point to growth

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 23,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 340,000, a level consistent with solid job growth. The less volatile four-week average ticked down just 500 to 339,500, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's close to the five-year low of 338,000 reached during the first week of May. The four-week average is 9 percent lower than in November. The decline in claims has coincided with steady job growth over the past six months. Since November, employers have added an average 208,000 jobs a month. That's up from just 138,000 jobs a month during the previous six months. Still, much of the improvement has come from fewer layoffs, not robust hiring. Employers laid off just 1.7 million workers in March, only slightly above the 12-year low reached in January. Overall hiring, however, remains far below pre-recession levels.


New-home sales up in April

U.S. sales of new homes rose in April and nearly matched the fastest pace in five years, driving the median price to a record high. The gains suggest the housing recovery is strengthening. New-home sales increased 2.3 percent in April from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 454,000, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That's only slightly below January's pace of 458,000, which was the fastest since July 2008. Steady job creation and near-record-low mortgage rates are spurring more Americans to buy homes. Sales are still below the 700,000 pace consistent with healthy markets, but they have risen 29 percent over the past year.


Mortgage rates increase again

Average rates on fixed mortgage rose for the third straight week, hitting their highest levels since mid-March. Still, mortgage rates remained close to historic lows, a trend that should help sustain the housing recovery. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate for the 30-year loan increased to 3.59 percent this week. That's up from 3.51 percent last week and above the rate of 3.31 percent reached in November, the lowest on records dating to 1971. The average on the 15-year loan jumped to 2.77 percent. That's up from 2.69 percent last week. The record low of 2.56 percent was hit on May 2. Mortgage rates rose because they tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note. That yield rose above 2 percent Wednesday for the first time since March 14.

Critics take McDonald's to task

McDonald's once again faced criticism that it's a purveyor of junk food that markets to children at its annual shareholder meeting Thursday. The world's biggest hamburger chain has been looking to keep up with changing tastes as people increasingly opt for foods they feel are fresh or healthy. Customers can now order egg whites in its breakfast sandwiches, for example. But on Thursday, McDonald's was taken to task by speakers associated with an advocacy group about its menu and advertising toward kids. As with other shareholder meetings where critics are given the rare chance to face executives, McDonald's Corp. allotted about a half-hour for attendees to ask CEO Don Thompson questions. Among those was a 9-year-old girl who asked Thompson to stop "tricking kids into eating your food."

Farmworkers protest Wendy's

Kerry Kennedy on Thursday joined farmworkers protesting outside Wendy's shareholder meeting in Manhattan. The protesters said they want Wendy's to sign an agreement to safeguard working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. Other fast-food chains including McDonald's and Burger King have signed the agreement with the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Kennedy heads the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, named for her late father. She led the crowd outside the stockholders' meeting in a chant of "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" Wendy's spokesman Bob Bertini said the Dublin, Ohio-based company had no comment on the demonstration. -- AP

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