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Business Highlights

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US economy expands at 0.4 percent rate

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The U.S. economy grew at a slightly faster but still anemic rate at the end of last year. However, there is hope that growth accelerated in early 2013 despite higher taxes and cuts in government spending.

The economy grew at an annual rate of 0.4 percent in the October-December quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That was slightly better than the previous estimate of 0.1 percent growth. The revision reflected stronger business investment and export sales.

Analysts think the economy is growing at a rate of around 2.5 percent in the current January-March quarter, which ends this week.

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US jobless claims rise by 16,000 to 357,000

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped by 16,000 last week, the second straight weekly increase. But the longer-term trend in layoffs remained consistent with an improved job market.

Applications increased to a seasonally adjusted 357,000 for the week ending March 23, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's up from 341,000 the previous week, which was revised slightly higher.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 2,250 to 343,000. Even with the gain, the average is only slightly higher than the previous week's five-year low of 340,750. Economists pay closer attention to the four-week average because it smooths out week-to-week fluctuations.

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US rate on 30-year mortgage ticks up to 3.57 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages edged up this week but remained near historic lows. Low rates have helped drive the housing market's steady recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan rose to 3.57 percent from 3.54 percent last week, still near the 3.31 percent level reached in November â¿¿ the lowest on records dating to 1971.

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