Applications for unemployment benefits rise

Thursday, February 17, 2011; 11:10 PM

New applications for jobless benefits rose by 25,000, to 410,000, last week, reflecting choppy conditions in a still-tepid U.S. labor market.

The number of new applications for unemployment compensation has jumped around in the past few months, ranging from 385,000 to 454,000, partly because poor weather and frequent holidays have caused paperwork delays at state unemployment offices.

Still, claims have been on a downward arc since topping the 500,000 mark last August, suggesting some improvement in employment trends. The national unemployment rate remains elevated at 9 percent, however.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims for the week ended Feb. 12 to rise to a seasonally adjusted 400,000. Last week's claims were revised upward by 2,000, to 385,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The four-week average of new claims rose a scant 1,750, to 417,750. The moving average is considered a more accurate barometer of employment trends because it smooths out fluctuations in the data caused by special factors such as holidays or bad weather.

Some economists say the link between jobless claims and employment growth might not be as strong now as it has been in the past. Yet others say that the decline in claims signals faster payroll growth in the months ahead and that "we do not expect to have to wait very long to see it," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist of High Frequency Economics.

- McClatchy Tribune


Merscorp seeks to end foreclosures

Merscorp, operator of the electronic registration system that contains about half of all U.S. home mortgages, will propose a rule change to stop members from foreclosing in its name.

Merscorp, which is owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, J.P. Morgan Chase and other mortgage-industry companies, is expected to make the proposal "shortly," according to an announcement dated Wednesday. U.S. courts have differed in recent years on whether Merscorp's MERS unit, as an agent for the mortgage owner, has the right to bring a foreclosure action.

"We encourage members to bring foreclosures only in the name of the holder of the note, in the name of the trustee or the servicer of record acting on behalf of the trustee" of the trust the mortgage is in, Reston-based Merscorp said in its Web site announcement.

Merscorp was created in 1995 to improve servicing after county offices could not deal with the flood of mortgage transfers, spokeswoman Karmela Lejarde said.

- Bloomberg News


Former Chrysler dealers sue government

A group of car dealers who lost their businesses in Chrysler's 2009 bankruptcy have sued the government, claiming their dealerships were closed without adequate compensation.

Sixty-four former Chrysler dealers say in the lawsuit filed Thursday that the Treasury Department failed to compensate them for the dealer closings that were approved by a bankruptcy judge. The dealers are seeking damages of at least $130 million.

Lawyers for the dealers say that the closures prevented a "significant disruption" to the U.S. auto industry but that the losses should not be borne by a few individual dealers. Chrysler closed 789 auto dealers, or about one-quarter of its dealer network in its bankruptcy.

The Treasury declined to comment on the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

- Associated Press

© 2011 The Washington Post Company