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The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage stayed at 2.77 percent for a third straight week. The record low is 2.63 percent.

The cheap mortgages that are encouraging more people to buy or refinance could also help sustain the economy's recovery this year. Increased sales are helping lift home prices, which tend to make consumers feel wealthier and more likely to spend. And when homeowners refinance, it typically leads to lower loan payments and more spending. Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic activity.

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Feds indict 4 in peanut butter salmonella outbreak

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Four former peanut company employees have been charged with scheming to manufacture and ship salmonella-tainted peanuts that killed nine, sickened hundreds and prompted one of the largest recalls in history.

The indictment by a federal grand jury in Georgia is a rare move by the federal government in food poisoning cases. Justice Department officials said Thursday that the charges stemming from the 2009 outbreak serve as a warning to food manufacturers who may compromise consumer safety in search of higher profits.

"When food or drug manufacturers lie and cut corners, they put all of us at risk," Stuart F. Delery, who heads the Justice Department's Civil Division, said at a news conference. "The Department of Justice will not hesitate to pursue any person whose criminal conduct risks the safety of Americans who have done nothing more than eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

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HP's 1Q offers glimmer of hope, stock surges

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s latest quarterly results provided a glimmer of hope after months of gloomy news. The fiscal first-quarter numbers announced Thursday topped what the slumping personal computer maker's own management and stock market analysts had forecast.

Like other PC makers, HP has been struggling to adapt to a shift toward smartphones and tablet computers, which are siphoning sales from desktop and laptop machines made by HP and other companies. Adding to the problems were some acquisitions gone awry. Over the past two quarters, HP announced losses totaling $15.3 billion as the company accounted for those mishaps, to the shock of Wall Street. The jolt caused HP's stock to plunge to its lowest price in a decade just three months ago.

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