WASHINGTON -- The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 42,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 338,000, the biggest drop since November 2012. But economists say the figures from late November and December are warped by seasonal volatility around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that the less-volatile four-week average rose 4,250 to 348,000.
Claims had jumped 75,000 over the two weeks that ended Dec. 14 before plunging last week.
Conviction tossed: A Roman Catholic church official given a stiff prison term for his handling of priest-abuse cases has had his landmark conviction overturned, and may soon be back before the sentencing judge for bail. Monsignor William Lynn served 18 months of his three- to six-year term for child endangerment before the state Superior Court overturned his conviction Thursday. The court unanimously rejected arguments that Lynn was legally responsible for an abused boy's welfare.
Stamp prices going up: Mailing a letter is about to get a little more expensive. Regulators this week approved a temporary price hike of 3 cents for a first-class stamp, bringing the charge to 49 cents a letter in an effort to help the Postal Service recover from severe mail decreases brought on by the 2008 economic downturn. Forever stamps, good for first-class postage whatever the future rate, can be purchased at the lower price until the new rate is effective Jan. 26. The higher rate will last no more than two years, allowing the Postal Service to recoup $2.8 billion in losses. Bulk mail, periodicals and package service rates will rise 6 percent.
Signatures for Obama: Rounding out a tough and frustrating year, President Barack Obama signed a bipartisan budget deal Thursday easing spending cuts and a defense bill cracking down on sexual assault in the military, as the president and Congress began pivoting to the midterm election year ahead. Obama put his signature on both hard-fought bills while vacationing in Hawaii, where he has been regrouping with his family since Saturday. The bill signing marks one of Obama's last official acts in a year beset by a partial government shutdown, a near-default by the Treasury, a calamitous health care rollout and near-perpetual congressional gridlock.
GM recall: China's product quality agency says General Motors Co. and its main Chinese partner will recall almost 1.5 million cars to replace a bracket that secures a fuel pump. The agency said today the recall affects 1.2 million Buick Excelles made from 2006 through part of 2012 and 250,000 Chevrolet Sails produced between April 2009 and October 2011 and some made last year.