Online orders start today for Apple Watch

The public will have its first chance to see, touch and buy the Apple Watch on Friday, as Apple stores in the U.S. and eight markets abroad start previews and online orders commence. Prices start at $349, but can go as high as $17,000 for a luxury edition in gold. Apple store employees will show you the range of options, including different watch cases, bands and sizes. Reservations are recommended. But you won't be able to walk out with a watch. Watches will be shipped, starting April 24, with no in-store pickup option. The same applies even after the 24th, at least for the foreseeable future.

Initial jobless claims climb but remain low

More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but applications for jobless aid overall remain low — a reassuring sign after hiring slowed last month. Weekly applications rose 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000, the Labor Department said. The climb occurred after applications plummeted to match a 15-year low in the previous week. Even with the increase, other data in the report demonstrated that few people are seeking benefits. Since applications are a proxy for layoffs, that suggests companies are confident enough in the economy to keep their staffs and are cutting few jobs. The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell 3,000 to 282,250. That is the lowest level for the average since June 2000.

Businesses drive decline in PC shipments

Weak demand for desktop computers caused PC sales to plunge again in the first quarter of this year, reflecting the industry's ongoing struggles with the shift to smartphones, tablets and other mobile gadgets. One big reason for the decline was businesses buying fewer desktop computers, according to the Gartner research firm. It noted companies have mostly finished replacing older PCs that used outdated Windows XP software. PC sales may get a boost later this year when Microsoft Corp. releases its next version of Windows, analysts said, but they're still expecting an overall decline in sales for this year.

Mortgage rates down as spring buying begins

Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates declined this week, approaching historically low levels with the spring home-buying season underway. Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said the national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 3.66 percent from 3.70 percent last week. The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, fell to 2.93 percent from 2.98 percent last week. A year ago, the average 30-year mortgage rate was 4.34 percent and the 15-year rate was 3.38 percent. The 30-year average rate reached a record low of 3.35 percent in November and December 2012, when the 15-year rate hit a record low 2.66 percent.

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