Business Highlights


Applications for US jobless aid reach 5-year low

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans sought unemployment aid last week, reducing the average number of weekly applications last month to a five-year low. The drop shows that fewer layoffs are strengthening the job market.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications fell by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 332,000. That reduced the four-week average to 346,750, the lowest since the week of March 8, 2008, three months after the Great Recession began.

The report “provides further evidence of a gradual strengthening in labour market conditions,” Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.


Samsung set to launch new iPhone challenger

NEW YORK (AP) — Samsung’s Galaxy S III smartphone has done very well, briefly unseating the iPhone as the bestselling smartphone in the world. The Korean company is launching a new phone it hopes can top that, and entrench the company as the main competitor to Apple.

Samsung has rented New York’s Radio City Music Hall for an event Thursday evening, and has been hinting that will reveal a fourth-generation Galaxy phone. Judging by the announcement of the S III in May, this means the new phone will be available in stores in a month or two.

It’s not known what the new phone will look like or how it will differ from its predecessor, but there’s speculation that Samsung will once again increase the screen size. Every successive generation of the Galaxy line has been bigger than the one before it. The S III has a screen measuring 4.8 inches on the diagonal, substantially larger than the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen.


Census shows record number of US counties are dying

WASHINGTON (AP) — A record number of U.S. counties — more than one in three — are dying off, hit by an aging population and weakened local economies that spur young adults to seek jobs and build families elsewhere.

New 2012 census estimates released Thursday highlight the population shifts as the U.S. deals with its most sluggish growth levels since the Great Depression.

The findings also reflect the increasing economic importance of foreign-born residents as the U.S. ponders an overhaul of a major 1965 federal immigration law. Without new immigrants, many metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis would have posted flat or negative population growth in the last year.


Lots of tech but few breakout hits at SXSW confab

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — For all the talk of space travel, the wearable gadgets, marketing stunts and lavish parties, something was missing at this year’s South By Southwest Interactive Festival: the next “hot app.”

The brainy tech jamboree held each year in Texas’ capital city is known as the place where Twitter soared from obscurity to the world stage in 2007. It’s where the location-sharing app Foursquare came out in 2009.

This year chatter focused on hardware rather than software, and on big ideas rather than coming-out parties. The most-used mobile app was the festival’s own application, which helped attendees keep track of South By Southwest’s barrage of panels, talks, meet-ups and parties. The star of the show wasn’t the next Twitter but an ever-reluctant Grumpy Cat, whose frowny face has become an Internet sensation. Hundreds of people lined up outside the tent of tech blog Mashable to get a photo with the cat, whose real name is Tardar Sauce.


Bankruptcy expert named Detroit emergency manager

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan’s governor appointed an auto-industry turnaround expert Thursday to steer Detroit back from the brink of ruin. The one-time symbol of America’s industrial might became the biggest U.S. city to be placed under state financial control.

Kevyn Orr, a partner in the Cleveland-based law firm of Jones Day, represented Chrysler during its successful restructuring. He will have broad powers to control spending, including renegotiating labour contracts, selling off assets and even suspending elected officials’ salaries.


Sharp drop in US homes lost to foreclosure in February

LOS ANGELES (AP) — While the nation’s foreclosure woes persist, new data show they’re easing amid a resurgent housing market, rising home prices and efforts by some states to give homeowners more time to avoid losing their homes.

The number of U.S. homes repossessed by lenders last month fell 11 per cent from January and declined 29 per cent from February last year, tumbling to the lowest level since September 2007, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

Some states continued to see sharp increases in homes lost to foreclosure — including Washington, Wisconsin and Iowa. But home repossessions declined both on an annual and monthly basis in a majority of states, including past foreclosure hotbeds like California, Georgia and Arizona.


US rate on 30-year mortgage rises to 3.63 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage rose this week to its highest level in seven months but remains near historic lows. Low mortgage rates have helped support the gradually recovering housing market.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan rose to 3.63 per cent from 3.52 per cent last week.

It’s the highest rate since August. But it’s still near the 3.31 per cent reached in November, which was the lowest on records going back to 1971.


Government seeks closer oversight of student loan firms

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government’s consumer finance watchdog wants stricter oversight of companies that collect and log student loan payments.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed Thursday that it supervise the activities of nonbank student loan companies — a more stringent form of regulation than these companies have faced in the past. The bureau says the scrutiny is needed to ensure borrowers aren’t mistreated as the industry grows and more people fall behind on their payments.

Nonbank loan servicers like Sallie Mae collect payments for both private and government-backed student loans.


FDA probes new pancreas risks with diabetes drugs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration is looking into new evidence that suggests a group of recently approved diabetes drugs can increase the risk of pancreatitis and other problems.

The agency said Thursday that samples of pancreas tissue taken from a small number of patients showed inflammation and cellular changes that often precede cancer. Academic researchers took the samples from diabetes patients who were taking the new medications, after they died from various causes.

Details of the research have not yet been published, but the agency said in an online statement that it is seeking more information.


Software glitch delays 660,000 tax refunds

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service says 660,000 taxpayers will have their refunds delayed by up to six weeks because of a problem with the software they used to file their tax returns.

The delay affects people claiming education tax credits who filed returns between Feb. 14 and Feb. 22.

H&R Block, the tax preparing giant, says that some of its customers were affected but the company has resolved the problem. A limited number of other software companies have also had problems, but IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge declined to name them.

Turbo Tax customers were not affected, spokeswoman Julie Miller said.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial rose 83.86 points to close at 14,539.14. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 8.71 points to 1,563.23, a gain of 0.6 per cent. The Nasdaq composite rose 13.81, or 0.4 per cent, to 3,258.93.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was up 51 cents to end at $93.03 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, was up 90 cents to finish at $109.42 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Natural gas futures gained 13 cents, or 3.6 per cent, to finish at $3.81 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline was unchanged at $3.14 a gallon. Heating oil picked up half a cent to end at $2.93 a gallon.