Nation and world business briefs

Nation and world business briefs
Published: February 24, 2012
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Business briefs

Nation

Mortgage rate stays below 4%

The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage jumped after standing pat for three straight weeks at record lows. But the rate stayed below 4 percent for the 12th straight week, keeping homebuying and refinancing attractive for those who can qualify. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the rate on the 30-year loan rose to 3.95 percent. That's up from last week's rate of 3.87 percent, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s. The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage rose to 3.19 percent from 3.16 percent. It hit a record low of 3.14 percent three weeks ago.

Gains are seen in job market

The number of people seeking unemployment aid was unchanged last week, and the four-week average of applications fell to its lowest point in four years. The figures add to evidence that shows the job market is improving. Applications stayed last week at a seasonally adjusted 351,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the fewest since March 2008, when the country was just a few months into the recession. The four-week average, which smooths week-to-week fluctuations, dropped for the sixth straight week to 359,000. That's also the lowest since March 2008.

$77 million system saves $7,591

Congressional officials say a $77 million computer system launched last summer to stop Medicare fraud before it happens had prevented just one suspicious payment by Christmas. That saved taxpayers exactly $7,591. Hoping for much better results, a disappointed Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., says when he saw the number he wondered whether Medicare had left out some zeros. Carper was expecting the system to finally allow Medicare to stanch a $60-billion-a-year fraud hemorrhage. Now lawmakers are worried about its future performance. Medicare officials say it's unfair to grade the new technology on one statistic. When other benefits of the system are taken into account, potential savings in the first six months easily exceed $20 million, Medicare officials say. Officials don't know how much has actually been recovered.

Pepsi will launch new cola

Pepsi is hoping to win back soda drinkers with a compromise. Some people don't like the calories in regular soda, but loathe the taste of zero-calorie diet drinks. So the nation's No. 2 cola company is rolling out “Pepsi Next,” a cola that has about half the calories of regular Pepsi at 60 calories per can. The cola, which is set to hit store shelves nationally by the end of March, is Pepsi's biggest product launch in years. The drink comes as people increasingly move away from sugary drinks to water and other lower-calorie beverages because of health concerns. It's also an attempt by Pepsi to revive the cola wars against Coke and others.

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