WASHINGTON – Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, driving down the level of applications to nearly the lowest in seven years.
Weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 304,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s not far from a reading of 298,000 two months ago, which was the lowest since 2007, before the Great Recession began.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dipped 3,500 to 311,500, the second-lowest level since August 2007. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the low readings indicate that employers are letting go of fewer workers.
The figures are the latest sign that the job market is steadily improving. Employers are adding jobs at a healthy clip and the unemployment rate is at a 5 1/2-year low.
Still, some economists warned that the figures could be volatile in the weeks ahead. That’s because auto manufacturers typically close their plants in July to prepare for new models to be released in the fall. That can cause spikes in temporary layoffs.
The number of people receiving benefits ticked up 10,000 to 2.58 million. That’s down from about 4.5 million a year ago. Much of that decline has occurred because an extended benefits program expired at the end of last year.
Weak sales prompt slow wholesale restocking
WASHINGTON – U.S. wholesale stockpiles rose in May at the weakest pace in five months as companies kept their supplies in line with slower sales.
Wholesale stockpiles grew 0.5 percent in May, the Commerce Department said Thursday, down from a 1 percent surge in April. Big gains in inventories of autos, lumber and metals drove the latest increase.
Sales at the wholesale level, meanwhile, rose 0.7 percent, down from 1.3 percent in April. Auto sales jumped 1.1 percent while sales of computers and electrical equipment fell.
The slower pace of sales and restocking suggests that consumer and business demand weakened a bit in May. But the figures also show that companies aren’t building up large stockpiles, which can leave them with unsold goods if sales slow further.
And May’s increase in inventories can contribute to economic growth because it means more orders of factory goods, which boosts manufacturing output.
Remington to replace triggers on hunting rifles
ST. LOUIS – The gun manufacturer Remington Arms Co. will replace trigger mechanisms on Model 700 bolt-action hunting rifles, or provide some compensation to buyers, as part of a settlement of class-action lawsuits, the company said Thursday.
Suits filed in Missouri and Washington state claimed the rifle has a defective trigger mechanism that can cause injury and death. They claimed that Model 700 rifles sometimes fire unexpectedly, without a trigger pull.
The settlements announced Thursday still must be finalized in court.
Remington Arms agreed to the settlements even though it denied allegations of any economic loss, the company said in a joint statement with the plaintiffs. The company declined to comment further and did not provide details of how the trigger mechanisms will be replaced.
30-year mortgage rate rises to 4.15 percent
WASHINGTON – Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages edged up slightly this week, remaining near historically low levels.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the nationwide average rate for a 30-year loan rose to 4.15 percent from 4.12 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage increased to 3.24 percent from 3.22 percent.
The average fee for a 30-year mortgage rose to 0.7 point this week from 0.5 point last week.
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