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In brief: Crude oil prices continue to tumble

Oil prices flirted with five-year lows Thursday as unemployment benefit claims rose and OPEC cut demand expectations for 2009.

Any belief that energy prices had bottomed out were wiped away early in the day as crude plumbed new depths for the year and more government data suggested the economy may be worsening.

“The bull oil era is officially over,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Alaron Trading Corp.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery fell 5 percent, or $1.88, to settle at $35.40 a barrel Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices fell as low as $33.20 Thursday and only gave up steep losses when the Dow Jones industrial average rebounded.

New York

Black Angus parent firm files for Chapter 11

The owner of the Black Angus Steakhouse chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday – the latest in a string of bankruptcy filings by sit-down restaurants hit hard by the deepening recession.

The chain’s owner, privately-held ARG Enterprises Inc., filed the bankruptcy petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

ARG operates 69 restaurants in Washington, Alaska, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Hawaii. Black Angus was founded in Seattle in 1964.

ARG first filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2004. Once it exited that bankruptcy, the company refurbished its Black Angus chain and refreshed its menu. But revenue still dropped from about $244 million in 2006 to $181 million in 2008.


Allen’s Vulcan Inc. to lay off 50 employees

A Vulcan Inc. spokesman says the Seattle company owned by billionaire Paul Allen plans to lay off 50 workers.

Spokesman David Postman said Thursday that Vulcan plans to cut its total work force of more than 600 employees by between 8 and 9 percent.

Postman said Vulcan is postponing or canceling some projects, but he declined to say which ones.

The layoffs won’t affect Vulcan Real Estate, which has been developing Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, including new offices for Web retailer, said Postman.

McLean, Va.

30-year mortgage rate drops to 4.96 percent

Rates on 30-year mortgages set a record for a fifth straight week by dropping to below 5 percent, the lowest mark since Freddie Mac started tracking the data in 1971.

Freddie Mac reported Thursday that average rates on 30-year fixed mortgages dropped to 4.96 percent this week, down from the previous record of 5.01 percent established last week. It was the 11th straight weekly drop.

The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.65 percent. That rate was 4.62 percent last week.

From wire reports

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