Average mortgage rates fell last week

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages declined last week, edging closer to historically low levels. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said that the average rate for the 30-year loan fell to 4.32 percent from 4.37 percent the week before. The average for a 15-year mortgage eased to 3.32 percent from 3.38 percent. Mortgage rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows roughly a year ago. The increase was driven by speculation that the Federal Reserve would reduce its $85 billion-a-month bond purchases, which have helped keep long-term interest rates low. The Fed said in December and January, and again on Wednesday, that it was reducing its purchases.

Weather hurt existing home sales last month

Sales of U.S. existing homes slipped in February to their lowest level since July 2012 as severe winter weather, rising prices and a tight supply of homes discouraged buyers. The National Association of Realtors said that sales declined 0.4 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.6 million. That was the sixth decline in the past seven months. Freezing temperatures and snowstorms likely kept many buyers from visiting open houses. And higher mortgage rates have weighed on sales since last fall. Still, there were some signs that the market could pick up in the coming months. Sales improved in the South and West, where weather was less of a factor. And more people decided to sell, boosting the supply of available homes 6.4 percent to 2 million.

Initial jobless claims rise but remain low

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 5,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 320,000, which is close to prerecession levels and suggests a stable job market. The four-week average of applications, a less volatile figure, fell 3,500 to 327,000, the lowest since late November, the Labor Department said. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. Their current pace suggests that companies are confident enough about economic growth to keep their staff levels. About 3.35 million people received unemployment benefits as of March 1, the latest figures available.

Luczo stepping down from Microsoft's board

Microsoft Corp. said Director Steve Luczo, who was a member of the search committee that led the effort to select Satya Nadella as chief executive, is stepping down from the board. Luczo, 57, who joined Microsoft's board in May 2012, said he was leaving to turn his attention to his full-time job as chairman and CEO of Seagate Technology. The change leaves Microsoft's board at 10 members.