Mortgage rate stays below 4%
WASHINGTON — 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
WASHINGTON — 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
WASHINGTON — 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
NEW YORK — 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.
Many hang up on T-Mobile USA
NEW YORK — Customers have been leaving T-Mobile USA, the country's No. 4 cellphone company, for the last two years. Now that all three of the bigger carriers have the iPhone, that stream has turned into a flood. Thursday, the company said it lost a net 526,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter. It lost a net 802,000 subscribers on contract-based plans, which are the most lucrative. That's an unheard-of figure for an industry that was characterized by rapid growth for more than a decade. T-Mobile, a Bellevue, Wash.-based subsidiary of Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG, is now losing subscribers from contract-based plans faster than regular phone companies are losing landline customers.
HOUSTON — There was nothing “extravagant” about millions that were paid to the outside auditor of jailed Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford's Caribbean bank, an accountant told jurors Thursday at the financier's fraud trial. Prosecutors allege the bank was at the center of a Ponzi scheme that took billions from investors. But Morris Hollander, a forensic accountant hired by Stanford's defense team, testified that his
Procter & Gamble to reduce jobs
NEW YORK — Consumer products maker Procter
EU plans bank move against Iran
BRUSSELS — The European Union is preparing regulations that will shut out Iran's banks from a major financial clearinghouse used by virtually every country in the world, a senior official said Thursday. The official said the regulations are being worked on, but should be adopted “rather quickly.” The move is part of an unprecedented escalation of economic pressure by the United States and the EU meant to halt Iran's suspected drive for nuclear weapons.
From wire reports