Here’s what’s important in the business world this morning:
Unemployment Applications: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell by 6,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 361,000. The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average rose by 2,250 to 368,250 in the week that ended Aug. 4.
Weekly applications fluctuated in July, skewed by the difficulty of accounting for temporary summertime layoffs in the auto industry. The seasonal distortions had faded by last week.
The economy “added” 163,000 jobs in July, supposedly the biggest increase since February. From April through June, employers had created a lackluster 73,000 jobs a month, not enough to keep up with a rising population. And despite July’s gains, the unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent in June.
Even with the increase, hiring is competitive. There were 12.7 million unemployed people in June, or an average of 3.4 unemployed people for each job.
U.S. Trade Deficit: The U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level in 18 months in June, pushed down by a steep drop in oil imports and a small rise in exports.
The Commerce Department says the trade gap narrowed to $42.9 billion in June, down from $48 billion in May. The price of imported oil fell $7.78 to $100.13 a barrel, the steepest drop in 3 1/2 years. That helped lower the trade deficit in oil to its lowest level since November 2010.
Exports rose 0.9 percent to a record high of $185 billion. Overseas sales of autos, pharmaceuticals, and industrial machinery increased. Despite Europe's struggling economy, exports to the 27-nation European Union increased 1.7 percent.
Imports fell 1.5 percent to $227.9 billion, the lowest in four months
Foreclosures: More U.S. homes started on the foreclosure path in July, as lenders tackled a backlog of mortgages gone unpaid even as they pulled back on home repossessions.
The number of homes that received an initial notice of increased 6 percent in July compared to the same month last year, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.
Filings of initial default notices have increased on an annual basis for three months in a row.
On average, 104,000 homes have entered the foreclosure process each month going back to May. That's well below the 178,000 per-month average in 2009, the year with the highest monthly average, RealtyTrac said.
The increase in homes entering the foreclosure process raises the possibility that more properties could end up being foreclosed upon in coming months. But of late, banks have been dialing back home repossessions and increasingly allowing the borrower to sell the home in a short sale. That's when the bank agrees to accept less than what the seller owes on the mortgage.
Banks took back 21 percent fewer homes last month than in July last year, RealtyTrac said. Repossessions were down 1 percent from June. They've been down on an annual basis every month going back nearly two years.
China Econ: China's growth in factory output fell to a three-year low in July and retail sales weakened, suggesting Beijing might need to launch more stimulus efforts to reverse a painful slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.
Inflation eased further, giving Beijing more room to cut interest rates or boost spending.
Growth in industrial production weakened to 9.2 percent over a year earlier from June's 9.5 percent, its lowest rate since May 2009, data showed Thursday. Retail sales growth slowed to 13.1 percent from the previous month's 13.7 percent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.