WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose last week by 28,000, the third straight increase.
Weekly applications increased to a seasonally adjusted 385,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the highest level since late November. The gain pushed the four-week average, a less volatile measure, to 354,250.
A Labor Department spokesman says the figures may have been affected by the Easter holiday.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They have declined steadily since November, pushing the average to a five-year low three weeks ago.
The recent increases could be a sign that companies are starting to cut jobs, possibly because of steep government spending cuts that began on March 1. Earlier reports this week suggested that companies may have slowed hiring this month after four months of strong job growth.
Economists said they wanted to see more data before concluding the job market’s trajectory had changed.
“We suspect the surge in the last two weeks reflects seasonal adjustment problems more than any fundamental change in the trend, but of course that remains to be seen,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, in a note to clients.
The government will issue the March employment report today.
PALO ALTO, Calif. – Hewlett-Packard Co. said Thursday that chairman Ray Lane is stepping down, two weeks after he was nearly ousted by shareholders at the company’s annual meeting. He’ll continue to be a board member.
Shareholders are upset by a series of mistakes that have damaged the company’s share price, including the $8.8 billion write-down on the $10 billion acquisition of business software maker Autonomy in 2011.
At the March 20 annual shareholders meeting, Lane’s re-election as director received just 59 percent support, compared with 96 percent for Ralph Whitworth, a veteran shareholder activist who will run the board temporarily.
Two other board members targeted by the shareholder revolt decided to resign by the May board meeting. They were John Hammergren, a director since 2005 who got 54 percent support, and G. Kennedy Thompson, a director since 2006 who got 55 percent.
“After reflecting on the stockholder vote last month, I’ve decided to step down as executive chairman to reduce any distraction from HP’s ongoing turnaround,” Lane, 66, said in a statement.
Mortgage rates move toward record lows
WASHINGTON – Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages crept closer to their historic lows this week.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan edged down to 3.54 percent from 3.57 percent last week. That’s near the 3.31 percent reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating to 1971.
The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage declined to 2.74 percent from 2.76 percent last week. The record low of 2.63 percent also was reached in November.