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15-year mortgage below 3 percent

WASHINGTON — Average U.S. rates on 30-year and 15-year fixed mortgages dropped to record lows again this week, with the 15-year loan dipping below 3 percent for the first time ever.

Low rates have helped brighten the outlook for home sales this year. They have made home-buying and refinancing more attractive to those who can qualify.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 3.75 percent. That’s down from 3.78 percent last week and the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

Key retailers post increases in sales

NEW YORK — Americans loosened their purse strings in May, but it may have been a temporary splurge.

Some major retailers, including Target and Macy’s, on Thursday posted sales increases that beat Wall Street estimates as shoppers were lured in by Mother’s Day promotions and colorful new styles of clothing. The gains followed a dismal showing from the month before.

Still, revenue growth remains slower than earlier in the year, and worries about the global economy are starting to escalate again.

Investors flee to safety in US bonds

NEW YORK — Investors stampeded into U.S. government bonds Thursday, driving the interest rate on the 10-year Treasury note as low as 1.54 percent, a record.

People were fearful that the U.S. economy might be hitting the skids at the same time as Europe is falling apart and the economies of China and India are slowing.

When investors want to protect their portfolios they tend to plow money into U.S. government bonds, which are considered among the safest in the world because they are less likely to lose value and are easily tradable.

Oil at its cheapest level since October

NEW YORK — The price of oil continued its monthlong slide Thursday following new reports that the U.S. economy isn’t growing as fast as many hoped.

Benchmark U.S. crude lost $1.29 to end at $86.53 per barrel in New York, while Brent crude fell $1.60 to finish at $101.87 per barrel in London. Oil is now the cheapest it’s been since October.

Independent analyst and trader Stephen Schork said oil already has fallen by nearly $20 a barrel, or more than 17 percent, this month.

In other news

LEAP WIRELESS International Inc., the parent of the Cricket cellphone service, on Thursday said it will be the first mainland U.S. phone company to sell recent iPhone models on a prepaid, no-contract basis.

THE DOW JONES Industrial Average lost 820 points during May, its worst showing for the month since May 2010.


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