LOCAL BUSINESS

Worthington’s profit is flat

Worthington Industries reported an increase in sales and essentially flat profit for the fiscal quarter that ended in February.

The Columbus steel manufacturer had sales of $611.3 million and profit of $25.9 million for the quarter, compared to the $569.4 million in sales and $26.3 million in profit for the same quarter last year.

John P. McConnell, chairman and CEO, said an increase in orders from the auto industry was one reason for the increase in sales. He expects results for the rest of the fiscal year “to reflect a continued, modest improvement in the general economy,” he said in a statement.

In the third quarter, Worthington bought the pressure cylinder business of the Coleman Co. and acquired Angus Industries, a maker of cabs for industrial equipment.

The company’s acquisitions, along with the sale in February 2011 of a controlling stake of Worthington’s metal-framing business, make year-to-year comparisons difficult, McConnell said.

The company’s operations include Worthington Metal Fabricators in Akron, which produces steel egress stair systems, and ArtiFlex Manufacturing, a joint venture based in Wooster.

ECONOMY

Jobless claims at four-year low

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week to the lowest level in four years, adding to evidence that the job market is strengthening.

Applications for weekly unemployment benefits fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 359,000, the Labor Department said. That’s the fewest applicants since April 2008. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined to 365,000 — the fewest for that measure since May 2008.

When unemployment benefit applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate. The decline has coincided with the best three months of hiring in two years.

The department made annual revisions to the past five years of data, which increased the number of applications in recent months and showed a slower decline. Still, even after the revisions, applications have fallen roughly 12 percent over the past six months.

Most economists still expect another strong month of hiring in March.

Mortgage rates dip below 4%

The average interest rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell back below 4 percent this week, staying near historic lows.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the rate on the 30-year loan dropped to 3.99 percent from 4.08 percent last week. Last month, the rate touched 3.87 percent, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage also fell, to 3.23 percent. That’s down from 3.30 percent last week and above the record low of 3.13 percent hit earlier this month.

TECHNOLOGY

RIM’s numbers disappoint

Research In Motion Ltd. reported revenue and profit that fell short of analysts’ estimates and said it will discontinue giving financial forecasts as demand for BlackBerry smart phones wanes.

Fourth-quarter earnings excluding one-time items fell to 80 cents a share and sales dropped 25 percent to $4.19 billion, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company said. Analysts predicted earnings of 81 cents and sales of $4.51 billion, the average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg News. RIM also said Jim Balsillie, its former co-chief executive officer, has resigned from the board.

CEO Thorsten Heins, who took the top job in January, is trying to turn around a company that has lost market share to Android devices and Apple’s iPhone because of aging technology, marketing gaffes and product delays. RIM said it is reviewing partnerships, joint ventures, licensing, and other ways to “leverage” its assets.

Compiled from staff and wire reports