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September 01, 2011 01:33 PM

Thursday Afternoon Business Brief

Stocks have drifted lower as traders mull over a raft of economic reports. Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, builders cut back on spending in July and manufacturing grew more slowly in August, but didn't contract as some had feared. Several retailers reported solid gains in August and auto sales were stronger than expected.
  • General Motors, Chrysler, Ford and Nissan are all reporting surprisingly strong U.S. sales in August. But Toyota says its U.S. sales fell 13 percent because of supply shortages caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Chrysler had a 31 percent increase from a year earlier. GM's sales rose 18 percent, Nissan was up 19 percent and Ford reported an 11 percent increase.
  • New White House budget projections anticipate a 9 percent unemployment rate next year. The budget office predicts the economy will grow by just 1.7 percent this year, a full percentage point less than it expected at the start of the year. It also sees the budget deficit topping $1.3 trillion, $300 billion less than it predicted in February.
  • Fixed-rate mortgages are mostly flat this week after hitting their lowest levels in decades. Freddie Mac says the average rate on a 30-year fixed is at 4.22 percent for the second straight week. The rate hit 4.15 percent two weeks ago, the lowest level on records dating to 1971. The average rate on a 15-year fixed fell to 3.39 percent.
  • Discover Financial Services says it's buying another $2.5 billion in private student loans from Citigroup. The deal, disclosed in a regulatory filing, comes nine months after Discover bought Citi's private student loan business, The Student Loan Corp., and a portfolio of loans and other assets totaling $4.2 billion.

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