Last Update on December 19, 2013 18:35 GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 379,000, the highest since March. The increase may reflect volatility around the Thanksgiving holidays.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average jumped 13,250 to 343,250, the second straight increase.
Economists dismissed the spike, saying it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month. That can distort the government's seasonal adjustments. But if the trend continues it would be a troubling sign of rising layoffs.
The number of people receiving benefits rose sharply. More than 4.4 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ended Nov. 30, the latest data available. That was 600,000 more than the previous week. Those figures aren't adjusted for seasonal patterns.
At 7 percent, the unemployment rate remains above the historic averages of 5 percent to 6 percent that are associated with strong job markets.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A measure of the U.S. economy's health is showing a solid gain for November.
The Conference Board says its index of leading indicators rose 0.8 percent in last month compared with October, when the index had posted a much smaller 0.1 percent gain. The index rose 1 percent in September, the month before the 16-day partial government shutdown.
The November gain was driven by improvements in labor markets, manufacturing orders and strong financial market indicators reflecting in part stock market gains.
The index is designed to signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people who bought existing U.S. homes in November declined for the third straight month. Higher mortgage rates have made home-buying more expensive, while the lingering impact of the October government shutdown may have deterred some sales.
The National Association of Realtors says home sales fell 4.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.90 million. That's the weakest pace since December 2012, and the first time since April that the pace has slipped below 5 million.
Still, the association projects that total sales this year will be 5.1 million. That would be the strongest since 2007, when the housing bubble burst.
The median sales price of an existing home was $196,300 in November, a slight decrease from October but 9.4 percent higher than a year ago.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages rose slightly this week but remained near historically low levels.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year loan increased to 4.47 percent from 4.42 percent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan rose to 3.51 percent from 3.43 percent.
Mortgage rates peaked at 4.6 percent in August and have stabilized since September, when the Federal Reserve surprised markets by taking no action on starting to reduce its $85 billion-a month bond purchases. The Fed decided this week that the outlook for the economy appeared strong enough for it to reduce the monthly bond purchases starting in January by $10 billion.
The purchases are designed to keep long-term rates such as mortgage rates low.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ocwen Financial Corp. will reduce struggling borrowers' loan balances by $2 billion in an agreement with federal regulators and 49 states over foreclosure abuses.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and state attorneys general announced the deal Thursday with the Atlanta-based company, one of the largest U.S. mortgage servicers. The regulators said Ocwen pushed borrowers into foreclosure through illegal actions, such as failing to promptly and accurately credit mortgage payments.
Under the agreement, Ocwen also will refund a combined $125 million to about 185,000 borrowers who have been foreclosed upon. It also agreed to change the way it manages mortgages. The company must stop "robo-signing" of documents, the practice of automatically signing off on foreclosures without a proper review.
The agreement must be approved by a federal court in Washington.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- One security analyst says it's "alarming" that Target could experience a data breach putting up to 40 million credit and debit card accounts at risk, considering all of the security the discount chain has in place.
Avivah Litan of Gartner Research notes that companies like Target spend millions of dollars a year on credit card security measures. She says she thinks the theft may have been an inside job.
The chain says customers who made purchases by swiping their cards at Target's U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data includes customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards.
The incident is particularly troubling for Target because it has used its branded credit and debit cards as a marketing tool to lure shoppers with a five percent discount.
Analyst Brian Sozzi of Belus Capital Advisors says Target has been getting more people into the stores with its discounts for using a Target-branded card. He says it's been "a big win" for Target. And he adds, "If they lose that trust, that person goes to Wal-Mart."
SMARTPHONE KILL SWITCH
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Two California officials have announced plans to introduce legislation requiring smartphones to have a "kill switch" that would render stolen or lost devices inoperable.
State Sen. Mark Leno and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said Wednesday that the bill will be formally introduced in January at the start of the 2014 legislative session.
Leno says smartphone theft is common on California streets, and the crimes are becoming increasingly violent. He says built-in anti-theft measures could deter thieves.
Earlier this year Samsung Electronics, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, proposed installing a kill switch in its devices.
But the nation's biggest carriers rejected the idea. The wireless industry says a kill switch isn't the answer because it could allow a hacker to disable someone's phone.
UNDATED (AP) -- Research firm eMarketer expects spending on mobile advertisements to hit nearly $9.6 billion in the U.S. this year, up from $4.4 billion in 2012 and from less than $1.6 billion in 2011.
Mobile ads now represent nearly 23 percent of the money companies spend on digital advertising, or ads people see on their computers, tablets and mobile phones. That's up from about 12 percent last year and less than 5 percent in 2011.
Facebook, which began showing mobile ads in 2012 and Google, which has by far the biggest share of the digital advertising market, account for much of this growth.
EMarketer expects Facebook Inc. to surpass Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. when it comes to digital ad revenue this year, behind only Google Inc.
MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) -- Facebook says it plans to offer 70 million shares of stock for sale that includes more than 41 million shares from chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The secondary offering of stock comes as the social media network prepares to join the Standard & Poor's 500 index.
The Menlo Park, Calif., company said Thursday that the shares will be offered mainly to index funds whose portfolios are based on stocks included in the index. The S&P 500 will add Facebook on Friday after markets close. The index is a list of companies that is meant to be a snapshot of the U.S. economy.
Facebook Inc.'s stock went public in 2012. After a rocky start, the company's shares have gained momentum.
Its shares fell 4 percent in premarket trading Thursday.
DARDEN RESTAURANTS-RED LOBSTER
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Darden Restaurants Inc. says it is looking to either spin off or sell Red Lobster, part of its plan to boost shareholder value.
The company, which also runs Olive Garden and other restaurants, said Thursday that it is also suspending the opening of new Olive Garden locations and will limit the opening of new LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants.
Its shares fell 5 percent on premarket trading.
Restaurant chains such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster have suffered since the downturn, with people being more careful about their spending. People are also increasingly heading to chains such as Chipotle, where it tends to cost less and take less time than a sit-down meal at a restaurant.
Darden said it has decided it won't make any acquisitions of additional brands "for the foreseeable future."