WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dipped 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, evidence that layoffs are low and hiring will likely remain steady. The Labor Department says the less volatile four-week average rose 8,500 to 357,250. The average was driven up in recent weeks by spikes that reflected seasonal volatility around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The government struggles to account for seasonal hiring by retailers and other businesses and for temporary layoffs of school employees during the holidays. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They appear to have stabilized near the pre-recession levels reached in the late summer and are at a level consistent with solid hiring. The unemployment rate fell to a five-year low of 7 percent in November.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages edged higher this week for the third straight week but remained low by historical standards. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average for the 30-year loan rose to 4.53 percent from 4.48 percent last week. The average for the 15-year loan increased to 3.55 percent from 3.52 percent. Mortgage rates peaked in August at 4.6 percent amid expectations the Federal Reserve would reduce its $85 billion a month in bond purchases. The purchases push mortgage and other long-term rates lower. Last month the Fed deemed the economy strong enough for it to reduce the monthly purchases by $10 billion. Mortgage rates are sharply higher than they were a year ago when the 30-year fixed rate was 3.35 percent and the 15-year was 2.65 percent.