â¿¿ MORTGAGE RATES â¿¿ Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages stayed close to record lows this week, a trend that has made home buying more affordable and helped the housing market recover. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year loan edged up to 3.32 percent. That's close to last week's rate of 3.31 percent, the lowest on records dating to 1971.


WASHINGTON â¿¿ The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 393,000 last week. It was the second straight drop after Superstorm Sandy had driven applications much higher earlier this month. By Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber.


NEW YORK â¿¿ Optimism that a budget deal will be reached in Washington sends stocks modestly higher. A pair of economic reports also brightens the mood. By Business Writer Matthew Craft.

â¿¿ OIL PRICES â¿¿ The price of oil is rising to $88 a barrel on optimism about encouraging economic news.


DEARBORN, Mo. â¿¿ The search is on for the country's newest multimillionaires, the holders of two tickets that matched all six numbers to claim the record $588 million Powerball jackpot. Lottery officials say winning tickets were sold in Arizona and at a convenience store in this small Missouri interstate town where store employees and townspeople are buzzing about who may have scored the big prize. The ticket-holders will split the jackpot, and the Missouri store owner says his $50,000 prize for selling the winning ticket may fund Christmas bonuses for his workers. By Maria Sudekum and Brian Skoloff.

AP photos, video.


ST. LOUIS â¿¿ After months of drought, the companies that ship grain and other goods down the Mississippi River are being haunted by a potential nightmare: If water levels fall too low, the nation's main inland waterway could be closed just as the harvest heads to market. Any closure would upend the shipping system that has carried American grain to market for generations. Now companies are scrambling to find alternative ways to get commodities to the Gulf Coast. By Jim Suhr and Jim Salter.

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