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Briefs

Existing home sales fall again

The number of people who bought existing U.S. homes in November declined for the third straight month. Higher mortgage rates have made home-buying more expensive, while the lingering effect of the October government shutdown might have deterred some sales.

Home resales fell 4.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.90 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. That was the weakest pace since December 2012 and the first time since April that the pace has slipped below 5 million.

Still, the Realtors’ group predicts that total sales this year will be 5.1 million. That would be the strongest since 2007, when the housing bubble burst. But it’s still below the 5.5 million generally associated with healthy housing markets.

Home sales could rebound in the new year if the strengthening job market lifts incomes and builds confidence in the economy.

Weekly jobless claims hit 9-month high

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 379,000, the highest since March. The increase may reflect volatility around Thanksgiving.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average jumped 13,250 to 343,250, the second straight increase.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Last month, they fell to nearly the lowest level in six years, as companies cut fewer jobs. But two weeks ago, they surged 64,000 to 369,000.

Economists dismissed that spike, saying it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month. That can distort the government’s seasonal adjustments. But if the trend continues, it would be a troubling sign of rising layoffs.

More than 4.4 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ended Nov. 30.

Gauge of economy up 0.8 percent

A measure of the U.S. economy’s health posted a solid gain in November, suggesting momentum was building at the end of the year.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators rose 0.8 percent in November compared with October, when the index had posted a much smaller 0.1 percent gain. The index rose 1 percent in September, the month before the 16-day partial government shutdown.

The index is designed to signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.

Conference Board economist Ataman Ozyildirim said the November index increase suggested “gradually strengthening economic conditions through early 2014.”

Drugmaker pays $4.1 billion for buyout

Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC will buy out Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s stake in their partnership to develop and sell diabetes drugs in a deal worth $4.1 billion – seizing an opportunity to serve the projected explosion of patients suffering from the disease.

The package announced Thursday includes $2.7 billion to buy Bristol-Myers’ 50 percent share, as well as up to $1.4 billion in regulatory-, launch- and sales-related payments. Bristol-Myers will also receive royalty payments based on net sales through 2025. Payments of up to $225 million may also be made after the transfer of certain assets and royalty payments.

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