RETAIL

Sears prepares to test

smaller store concept

After its journey through bankruptcy, Sears is getting ready to open its first batch of smaller stores that won't carry clothing but will instead focus on appliances, mattresses and home services.

The move comes after Sears has shuttered hundreds of stores in recent years, including its Chapel Hill Mall store and many other Ohio locations.

The first three stores called Sears Home & Life will open on Memorial Day weekend and are a fraction of the size of the company's traditional stores.

Peter Boutros, chief brand officer for Sears and Kmart, declined to say how many of these new format stores are in the works but said locations have been identified.

The first three will be located in Overland Park, Kan.; Lafayette, La.; and Anchorage, Alaska, Boutros said.

REAL ESTATE

Mortgage rates move little

after last week's plunge

U.S. long-term mortgage rates moved little this week after the key 30-year loan rate marked its steepest weekly drop in a decade the week before.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage ticked up to 4.08 percent from 4.06 percent — which had plunged from 4.28 percent last week. The average rate on the benchmark loan stood at 4.40 percent a year ago.

The average rate this week for 15-year, fixed-rate home loans slipped to 3.56 percent from 3.57 percent last week.

The decline made purchasing a home a lot cheaper, and potential buyers have been rushing to take advantage of the cheaper borrowing costs.

JOBS

Unemployment applications

hit lowest level since 1969

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level since late 1969, a sign that employers are holding onto their workers despite signs of a slowing economy.

Weekly applications for jobless aid fell 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 202,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That is the lowest since the week of December 6, 1969.

 Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the drop to such a low number indicates that companies are cutting very few workers.

AUTOS

Tesla vehicle deliveries

fall sharply in first quarter

Electric-car maker Tesla Inc. delivered sharply fewer vehicles to customers in the first three months of the year, raising questions about the strength of demand for its product lines as it ramps up assembly of the newest sedan.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company said Wednesday that it delivered about 63,000 vehicles to customers during the first quarter, a 31 percent drop from the previous quarter. The most dramatic drop-off was for Tesla's highest-profit-margin vehicles, its Model S sedan and Model X SUV, which saw combined deliveries fall 56 percent from the previous quarter.