Business Briefs – January 4, 2017

Mortgage Rates, Home Sales and Prices Seen Rising in 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) – As recently as this summer, homebuyers had ultra-low mortgage rates on their side. But that was then.

While mortgage rates remain low by historical standards, they’ve risen sharply over the past couple of months, pushing the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage to 4.32 percent this week. That’s the highest level since April 2014.

Economists predict mortgage rates will continue to climb next year, just one of the trends that suggest 2017 could be a more challenging year for homebuyers.

Fed Minutes: If Economy Heats Up, Rate Hikes May Accelerate

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal Reserve officials, who boosted a key interest rate last month, said they might need to accelerate future rate hikes if a faster-growing economy pushes down the unemployment rate farther than currently expected.

Minutes of the Fed’s December meeting released Wednesday showed that Fed officials discussed the impact of Donald Trump’s proposed economic program of tax cuts, deregulation and increased infrastructure spending.

The minutes said that Fed officials believed they could maintain plans for gradual rate hikes but would need to be ready to hasten those increases if necessary to fight inflation.

Insurer: 2016 Saw Highest Natural Disaster Losses in 4 Years

BERLIN (AP) – Last year saw the highest costs from natural disasters since 2012, with a pair of earthquakes in Japan in April accounting for the heaviest losses, a leading insurer said Wednesday.

Losses from natural disasters worldwide totaled $175 billion last year, some $50 billion of which was covered by insurance, Munich Re said in an annual survey .

The earthquakes on Japan’s southern Kyushu island caused $31 billion worth of damage, with $6 billion of the costs covered by insurance. Floods in China in June and July caused $20 billion in costs, only $300 million of which was insured.

Lawsuit Seeks to Ban Google From U.S. Government Contracts

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The U.S. Labor Department is trying to bar Google from doing business with the federal government unless the internet company turns over confidential information about thousands of its employees.

The potential banishment is being sought in a Labor Department lawsuit filed Wednesday with the Office of Administrative Law Judges.

The complaint alleges that Google has repeatedly refused to provide the Labor Department with employee compensation records and other information as part of an audit designed to ensure the Mountain View, California, company isn’t discriminating against workers based on gender or race.

Google says it provided hundreds of thousands of records in an attempt to comply with the Labor Department’s requests, but has rebuffed some of the agency’s demands as an invasion of employee privacy.

Tesla Begins Making Battery Cells at Massive Nevada Fact

RENO, Nev. (AP) – Tesla Motors says it has started producing lithium-ion battery cells at its $5 billion factory in Nevada.

The company says it began making high-performance cells in December and production started Wednesday for cells used in Powerwall energy-storage products.

Tesla plans to start making batteries for its Model 3 sedans later this year.

The massive Gigafactory outside Sparks is coming online in phases, with a goal of full operation in 2018.