Business briefs: Weekly jobless claims climb to 9-month high
WASHINGTON – The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 379,000, the highest since March. The increase may reflect volatility around the Thanksgiving holidays.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average jumped 13,250 to 343,250, the second straight increase.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Last month, they fell to nearly the lowest level in six years, as companies cut fewer jobs. But two weeks ago, they surged 64,000 to 369,000.
Economists dismissed that spike, saying it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month. That can distort the government’s seasonal adjustments. But if the trend continues it would be a troubling sign of rising layoffs.
The number of people receiving benefits rose sharply. More than 4.4 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ended Nov. 30, the latest data available. That was 600,000 more than the previous week. Those figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal patterns.
Still, most other recent job market data has been positive and economists generally expect unemployment benefits applications will soon fall back.
Ocwen settles massive home loan abuse case
WASHINGTON – Ocwen Financial Corp. will reduce struggling borrowers’ loan balances by $2 billion in an agreement with federal regulators and 49 states over foreclosure abuses.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and state attorneys general announced the deal Thursday with the Atlanta-based company, one of the largest U.S. mortgage servicers. The regulators said Ocwen pushed borrowers into foreclosure through illegal actions, such as failing to promptly and accurately credit mortgage payments.
The company also miscalculated interest rates and charged borrowers improper fees, the regulators said.
Under the agreement, Ocwen also will refund a combined $125 million to about 185,000 borrowers who had been foreclosed upon from 2009 through 2012. It also agreed to change the way it manages mortgages. The company must stop “robo-signing” of documents, the practice of automatically signing off on foreclosures without a proper review.
Darden Restaurants to shed Red Lobster
Darden Restaurants Inc. said Thursday it will either spin off or sell Red Lobster, one of its oldest and biggest brands.
The Orlando, Fla.-based company also said it plans to stop building new Olive Gardens and to slow down growth at LongHorn Steakhouse.
The announcement came as Darden reported weak second-quarter results. Profit plummeted to 15 cents per share – a 42.3 percent decrease from the previous year.
China returning GMO corn to U.S.
BEIJING – China has rejected 545,000 tons of imported U.S. corn found to contain an unapproved genetically modified strain, the country’s product safety agency announced today.
China’s government is promoting genetically modified crops to increase food production. But it faces opposition from critics who question their safety, especially those imported from the United States.
An unapproved strain called MIR162 was found in 12 batches of corn at six inspection stations. The Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said the shipments would be returned to the United States.