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Economy

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Economic reports
Several other reports Thursday also provide an economic snapshot:
Jobless aid: The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits rose 16,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 360,000, although the level remains consistent with steady hiring.
The Labor Department said the less volatile four-week average increased 6,000 to 351,750.
Foreclosures: Fewer U.S. homes entered the foreclosure process or were repossessed by banks in June, the latest sign that the nation is shaking off its housing bust hangover.
Lenders initiated the foreclosure process on 57,286 homes last month, the lowest level for any month in 7 1/2 years, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said.
Foreclosure starts are on pace to reach roughly 800,000 this year, down from 1.1 million last year, the firm said.
Mortgage rates: The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage rose this week to 4.51 percent, a two-year high. Rates have been rising on expectations that the Federal Reserve will slow its bond purchases this year.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average on the 30-year loan rose from 4.29 percent the previous week.
– Associated Press
Associated Press
Help is wanted at a Charlotte, N.C., diner. Along with steady hiring, the economy is also seeing retail sales growth.

Retailers report big gains

June sales bode well for looming school season

– June sales heated up for stores, a sign that Americans likely will continue to spend during the important back-to-school shopping season.

U.S. retailers reported their strongest sales gains since January as shoppers, enticed by warm weather and an improving economy, took advantage of summer discounts.

Revenue at stores open at least a year – an industry measure of a retailer’s health – rose 4.1 percent in June compared with the same month a year ago, according to a preliminary tally of 13 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers. The mall trade group had expected an increase of 3 percent to 3.5 percent.

The data, released Thursday, offer positive signs for the back-to-school season, which is the second-biggest shopping period behind the winter holidays.

June is when stores clear out summer merchandise to make room for goods for fall, so brisk sales mean stores likely won’t be stuck with piles of shorts and T-shirts they need to get rid of as the back-to-school season kicks off later this month.

June’s performance was the best since January’s 4.5 percent gain and showed a gradual improvement since early this spring. The tally was up 3.4 percent in May and 3 percent in April.

Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, expects total sales for the back-to-school season, which runs from mid-July through mid-September, to be up a solid 3.1 percent to $42.2 billion. That would be less than the 3.6 percent gain in 2011 but in line with the 3.3 percent average over the past 10 years.

Stores are benefiting from an improving economy that gained a robust 195,000 jobs in June. Employers have added an average of 202,000 jobs a month for the past six months, up from 180,000 in the previous six.

The housing market is also gaining strength. And consumer confidence in June is at the highest level since January 2008, according to the Conference Board.

“We had seen consumers pull back a littler earlier this year, but now there’s a willingness to spend,” Neimira said. “It adds to the flavor of the other economic data out there that looks better.”

Indeed, while big chains such as Wal-Mart Stores, Target Corp. and Macy’s Inc. no longer report monthly revenue, the stores that do offer economists a snapshot of consumer spending habits.

The retailers that report monthly data represent about 6 percent of the $2.4 trillion in U.S. retail industry sales.

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