Retail outlook mixed
The outlook for the holiday season brightened Thursday as many of the nation's retailers reported an improvement in sales in October. Discounters, however, had another month of lackluster results as their customers cut back spending.
Many mall-based apparel stores, including Limited Brands, Abercrombie & Fitch Inc. and Gap Inc., saw a rebound in spending, helped by cooler weather.
Big Lots Inc., ShopKo Stores Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were among the merchants who extended a sluggish streak that began in June.
Wal-Mart recorded a 2.8 percent increase in same-store sales, below the 3 percent boost that had been expected by analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call. Total sales were up 10.4 percent.
Productivity gains slow
The productivity of America's workers grew at a 1.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter, the smallest gain since late 2002, the government reported Thursday.
The increase in productivity -- the amount an employee produces for every hour of work -- followed a brisk 3.9 percent pace registered in the second quarter, the Labor Department said. The figure for the July-to-September period was better than the 1.7 percent growth rate some economists were forecasting.
Analysts have been expecting productivity growth to slow somewhat based on the hope that businesses would seek to hire workers to help meet customer demand, rather than rely largely on greater efficiencies from fewer or existing workers.
Mortgage rates rise
Mortgage rates around the country rose this week but are still at levels that should continue to provide support to the vibrant housing market, analysts say.
Rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 5.7 percent for the week ending Thursday, Freddie Mac said in its weekly survey released Thursday. That was up from 5.64 percent last week.
Rates on 30-year mortgages hit a high this year of 6.34 percent the week of May 13. Since then, rates had drifted lower as inflation fears eased.
For 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages, a popular option for refinancing, rates rose this week to 5.08 percent, up from 5.01 percent last week.
GM recalls nearly 1.5 million vehicles
General Motors Corp. said Thursday it was recalling nearly 1.5 million vehicles in North America, ranging from 2002 to 2005 models.
The world's largest automaker reported the recalls -- four in all -- Oct. 27 to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. GM has recalled 10.47 million vehicles in North America so far this year.
The latest recalls include 946,817 sport utility vehicles: the 2002-2004 Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and Oldsmobile Bravada, and the 2004 Buick Rainier.
The company said that tail lamps could malfunction on the vehicles. The company has identified two crashes, one with injury, possibly related to the malfunction.
Owners will be notified by GM through the mail and repairs will be made free of charge at GM dealerships.