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Rates on fixed mortgages increase only slightly

WASHINGTON (AP) Average rates on U.S. fixed mortgages rose this week but remained near record lows, a trend that is leading more Americans to buy homes or refinance their loans.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on a 30-year loan increased to 3.37 percent from 3.32 percent last week. That's just above the 3.31 percent rate of a month ago, the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage dipped to 2.65 percent from 2.66 percent last week. The record low is 2.63 percent.

Low rates have spurred home sales and helped spark a modest housing recovery. They have also led more people to refinance, which typically lowers monthly mortgage payments and boosts consumer spending.

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Leading index declines

WASHINGTON (AP) A measure of the U.S. economy designed to signal future activity fell in November, suggesting that growth could remain weak in the early part of next year.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators dropped 0.2 percent in November, compared with October, when the index had risen 0.3 percent. It was the first decline in the index since a 0.4 percent fall in August. The index is intended to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out.

The November decline marked the fourth time the index has fallen this year.

The major components of the index that contributed to the weakness were a rise in applications for unemployment benefits, a fall in stock prices and drop in new orders for manufactured goods.

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Jobless applications rise

WASHINGTON (AP) The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week by 17,000, reversing four weeks of declines. But the number of people seeking aid is consistent with a job market that continues to grow modestly.

Unemployment claims rose the week of Dec. 15 to a seasonally adjusted 361,000 from a revised 344,000 the week before.

The less-volatile four-week moving average fell 13,750 to 367,750, lowest since late October. Applications had surged in early November after Superstorm Sandy, then dropped back.

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Camry poor in crash test

DETROIT (AP) The Toyota Camry, the best-selling car in the U.S., performed poorly this year in a new crash test and failed to get the best safety rating from an insurance industry group.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Camry a "Poor" rating on a test that measures how well people are protected when the front corner of a car hits another car or an object.

The Camry still did well on the institute's other four tests and earned a "Top Safety Pick" designation. But it failed to get a "Top Safety Pick-Plus" rating because of the bad performance on the new "small overlap" test of corner crashes.

Ten moderately priced midsize cars got the institute's highest rating. They include the Honda Accord, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Ford Fusion, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy and Outback, Suzuki Kashai and the Volkswagen Passat.

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Astronics gets military pact

Astronics Corp. has been picked to supply the exterior lighting system for a military transport and tanker aircraft made by Embraer Defense and Security, the East Aurora aircraft lighting and electronics manufacturer said.

Astronics did not disclose the value of the contract, which calls for the company to make navigation, anti-collision, landing, taxi, aerial refueling and formation lights for the new KC-390 aircraft, which is expected to begin service in 2016.