Could boost housing market: Fixed mortgage rates have fallen to their lowest levels this year, giving Americans more incentive to buy homes or refinance their loans. Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.63% from 4.71%. The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage slipped to 3.82% from 3.89%. Both are at their lowest points since December. It marked the fourth straight weekly decline. Rates track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which fell close to its lowest level of the year this week. Low mortgage rates could boost the struggling housing market, which has dragged on the economy. Home sales are far below healthy levels. Tight lending standards and fear that markets haven’t bottomed out have kept would-be homebuyers away.
Level still above figure consistent with job growth: The number of people applying for unemployment benefits plummeted last week, reversing nearly all the sharp rise reported the previous week. The number of laid-off workers seeking benefits dropped 44,000 to a seasonally adjusted 434,000, the Labor Department says. That is the steepest weekly fall since February 2010. The drop suggests that the increase of 47,000 reported last week was mostly due to temporary factors. The state of New York reported that applications jumped by more than 24,000 two weeks ago, because more school systems had spring break than usual. That led to a spike in temporary layoffs. A new extended benefits program in Oregon had caused applications to rise in that state. Still, the latest applications figure is far above 375,000, the level typically consistent with sustainable job growth. Weekly applications peaked during the recession at 659,000.
Tiger’s gone: Tiger Woods has withdrawn from The Players Championship today after playing nine holes and shooting a 42. Woods was playing for the first time since the Masters and taking time off because of a knee and Achilles tendon injury. After completing the front nine at TPC Sawgrass, Woods handed his scorecard to playing partner Martin Kaymer.