Existing home sales climb but still soft

Sales of existing U.S. homes rebounded slightly in April, but the pace of buying remained below last year’s level. The National Association of Realtors said that sales rose 1.3 percent from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.65 million. Purchases of homes over the past 12 months have dropped 6.8 percent. Much of the gains were concentrated in the volatile condominium market, which experienced growth of 7.3 percent. Sales of single-family homes were up just 0.5 percent last month. Nearly five years into the recovery from the Great Recession, real estate sales have yet to return to their historic averages. The solid gains made through the middle of 2013 have evaporated, while demand continues to be strong for the most expensive properties and faltering for starter homes and those priced for middle class buyers.

Leading indicators rose 0.4% last month

A gauge designed to predict the economy’s future health posted a solid gain in April, further evidence of stronger growth after a severe winter dampened activity. The Conference Board said its index of leading indicators increased 0.4 percent in April following an upwardly revised 1 percent gain in March. The strength in April was led by improving housing and financial market conditions. “Despite a brutal winter which brought the economy to a halt, the overall trend in the leading economic index has remained positive,” Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein said. He said stronger spending by consumers should bolster growth in coming months.

Initial jobless claims increase but remain low

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits jumped last week, but remained at a low level that suggests hiring should remain steady. Applications rose 28,000 to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, the Labor Department said. The increase comes after applications fell to their lowest level since May 2007 two weeks ago. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dipped 1,000 to 322,500. The average reached a seven-year low of 312,000 last month. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the low levels suggest companies are cutting few jobs. The number of people receiving benefits fell to 2.65 million, the fewest since Dec. 1, 2007, when the recession began.

Unilever selling Ragu, Bertolli for $2.15B

Consumer goods maker Unilever said it was selling its Ragu and Bertolli brands to Japanese sauce company Mizkan Group for $2.15 billion. The deal includes two production facilities — a tomato processing plant in Stockton, Calif., and a sauce processing and packaging plant in Owensboro, Ky. Unilever, which is based in the Netherlands and London, said the sale was its latest effort to reshape its business in North America. The company last year sold its Skippy peanut butter (to Hormel Foods Corp.) and Wish-Bone salad dressing brands.

Report: 787 batteries needed more testing

A new report says federal regulators did not properly test lithium-ion batteries on Boeing Co.’s 787 jetliner, which were responsible for last year’s overheating incidents that grounded the planes around the world for three months. The National Transportation Safety Board urged the Federal Aviation Administration to develop more rigorous testing for the batteries and seek advice from an independent panel the next time it encounters new technologies on commercial aircraft. The NTSB’s 12-page safety recommendation letter said that processes used in 2006 to certify the batteries were “inadequate.”