Surprise: Amazon profit beats expectations

Amazon.com Inc. surprised investors with a fourth-quarter profit that soundly beat expectations, despite a continued increase in spending and a slight sales miss, partly linked to the strong dollar. Investors drove shares up over 11 percent in aftermarket trading. The latest results seem to indicate that at least some areas in which Amazon has invested heavily, such as its $99 annual loyalty program and its Amazon Web Services cloud computing offerings for businesses, are finally helping out its bottom line. During the October-to-December quarter, Amazon earned 45 cents per share, easily topping Wall Street expectations. The online retailer posted revenue of $29.33 billion in the period.

Shake Shack raises $105 million in IPO

Investors apparently have a craving for a better burger. Hamburger chain Shake Shack Inc. priced its initial public stock offering at $21 per share, above its proposed range of $17 to $19 per share. It sold 5 million shares, raising $105 million. Shake Shack cooks burgers to order and promotes its use of natural ingredients. The stock is expected to begin trading Friday under the ticker symbol SHAK.

Initial jobless claims sink to 15-year low

The number of people seeking unemployment aid plunged last week to the lowest level in almost 15 years, a sign hiring will likely remain healthy. Weekly applications dropped 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000, the Labor Department said. That is the lowest level since April 2000. It is also the biggest decline in two years. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 8,250 to 298,500.

U.S. mortgage rates tick up but remain low

Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates rose slightly this week after four straight weeks of declines, while remaining near historically low levels. Mortgage company Freddie Mac said the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage edged up to 3.66 percent from 3.63 percent last week. The new average rate is still at its lowest level since May 2013. The rate for the 15-year loan, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, increased to 2.98 percent from 2.93 percent last week.

Pending home sales declined in December

Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in December, a sign that low mortgage rates have yet to coax more buyers into the market. The National Association of Realtors said its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index fell 3.7 percent last month to 100.7. The index ended the year below its 2013 average. Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases.

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