Business news in brief

Posted: November 10, 2017 at 1:41 a.m.

Jobless-aid sign-ups up 10,000, still low

The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits edged up slightly to a still-low 239,000 last week. Meanwhile, the four-week average fell to a fresh 44-year low, evidence that the job market remains healthy.

The Labor Department says that applications for jobless aid rose by a seasonally adjusted 10,000 last week after having fallen by 5,000 the previous week.

The four-week average, which smooths out week-to-week volatility, dropped to 231,250, a decline of 1,250 from the previous week. It was the lowest level for the four-week average since it stood at 227,750 on March 31, 1973.

Applications for unemployment benefits are a proxy for layoffs. The level of unemployment benefits has been below 300,000 for more than two years, a stretch not equaled in more than four decades.

-- The Associated Press

Memphis site scratched for auto plant

MEMPHIS -- A state official says Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. have eliminated an industrial site in Tennessee from consideration for their new auto manufacturing plant.

The Commercial Appeal reports that Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe said the Japanese automakers passed on the Memphis Regional Megasite because it is not "shovel-ready," compared with sites in other states.

Toyota and Mazda have announced plans to jointly build a $1.6 billion plant in the U.S. The automakers say the move will create 4,000 jobs and the plant will have an annual production capacity of about 300,000 vehicles.

-- The Associated Press

Madoff victims get $4B fund's first cuts

The U.S. Justice Department started a long-delayed distribution to victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, tapping a $4 billion fund created through settlements with some of the con man's oldest customers and his bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The Madoff Victim Fund will return $772.5 million to more than 24,000 victims worldwide, the first in a series of distributions. The payouts will eventually become the largest of forfeited funds in the history of the Justice Department's victim-compensation program, the agency said Thursday in a statement.

Almost nine years after Madoff's arrest, investors are still trying to recover money from a fraud that erased $17.5 billion in principal and more than $40 billion in fake profits that victims believed was held in their accounts. Some have recovered more than $10 billion from another fund overseen in bankruptcy court through a separate process.

The administrator of the fund, Richard Breeden, said in June that the Justice Department had approved more than 35,000 petitions claiming total losses of more than $6.5 billion. He met a target for issuing distributions by the end of the year. A similar deadline for the end of 2016 was missed.

-- Bloomberg News

Rates slip for 30-, 15-year mortgages

WASHINGTON -- Long-term U.S. mortgage rates slipped this week, a sign that borrowing costs are largely stable even as the Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark short-term interest rate.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages slipped to 3.9 percent, from 3.94 percent last week. The rate is higher than it was a year ago, when it was 3.57 percent. But it is still historically low. Before the 2008 recession, it was typically closer to 6 percent.

The average rate on 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages, popular with homeowners who are refinancing, fell slightly to 3.24 percent from 3.27 percent last week.

The average rate on the five-year, adjustable-rate mortgage ticked down to 3.22 percent from 3.23 percent last week.

-- The Associated Press

Seasonal hiring slumps at store chains

As brick-and-mortar retailers struggle to remain vibrant in the new world of e-commerce, they're hiring fewer seasonal workers.

That's according to a report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., which shows October employment gains fell 8 percent from last year -- a result of fewer hiring announcements from companies such as Wal-Mart Stores. The report shows that seasonal retail hiring has fallen each October since 2015.

"The shrinking job gains in retail during the holiday season are indicative of the changing consumer habits and overall transition the industry is experiencing," John Challenger, the firm's chief executive officer, said in the report.

More shoppers are shifting online, which promotes seasonal job gains in the transportation and warehousing sectors. Jobs in those categories were up about 2 percent in October, compared with a year earlier. That equates to 111,400 more jobs.

-- Bloomberg News

FDA move on generics aims at price cuts

Makers of copycat drugs will face pressure to bring down prices even more quickly as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pushes to get more low-cost competition to market.

The FDA wants to prioritize certain generic-drug applications in an effort to drive down prices, which have drawn increasing scrutiny from lawmakers and the ire of President Donald Trump. The agency has its sights set on an incentive granted to drugmakers that are first to seek approval for a copy of a brand-name drug, according to a policy document released Thursday.

Generic-drug makers must submit their medicines to the FDA for approval. So-called first filers are typically able to sell their version of a brand-name drug free from competition from other generics for 180 days. When that period is up, the floodgates open -- though a backlog of applications awaiting FDA clearance has meant some first filers have had the market to themselves for far longer.

The new FDA initiative is meant to clear that backlog, speeding competition and the subsequent price drops, said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

The generic drug industry has gone through a period of turbulence. Major manufacturers such as Mylan NV and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. have blamed falling prices for hits to their revenue. Almost 20 companies are also the target of civil investigation by several states, and have been accused of fixing prices and improperly carving up markets.

-- Bloomberg News

Business on 11/10/2017