WASHINGTON

Productivity falls in U.S.

US. worker productivity shrank in the final three months of 2012 although the decline was caused by temporary factors.

Productivity contracted at an annual rate of 2 percent in the October-December quarter, the biggest drop since the first quarter of 2011, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Productivity had risen at a 3.2 percent rate in the July-September quarter.

Labor costs rose at a 4.5percent rate in the fourth quarter, the fastest gain since the first quarter of 2012.

Productivity is the amount of output per hour of work. It shrank in the fourth quarter because economic activity contracted while hours worked rose. The economy declined at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the last three months of 2012, a drop caused mainly by deep defense cuts and slower restocking, changes not expected to last.

WASHINGTON

30-year mortgage

rate steady

The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was unchanged this week near historic lows, while the average rate on the 15-year loan fell. Low mortgage rates could help strengthen the housing recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan stayed at 3.53 percent. That's still near the 3.31 percent rate reached in November, the lowest in records dating to 1971.

The rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage dropped to 2.77 percent from 2.81 percent last week. The record low is 2.63 percent.


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Cheap mortgages are encouraging more people to buy homes and refinance, trends that could help boost the economy this year.

Increased sales are helping push home prices up steadily, which makes consumers feel wealthier and more likely to spend. In addition, a limited supply of houses for sale has created demand for new construction, which has made builders more confident.

NEW YORK

Sprint posts 4Q loss; revenue rises

Sprint Nextel Corp., the country's third largest wireless carrier, on Thursday said it lost $1.3billion in its fourth quarter, about the same as a year ago, as it revamped its network for a comeback versus bigger competitors.

The company's focus, and that of its investors, is on its long-term turnaround efforts rather than on short-term results. Sprint is selling 70percent of itself to Japanese carrier Softbank Corp. for $20 billion.

The Overland Park, Kan., company lost 44 cents per share in the October to December period versus 43cents per share in the previous year.

The loss was slightly smaller than analysts had predicted. The average Wall Street forecast as polled by FactSet was 46 cents per share.

Revenue was $9 billion, up 3.2 percent from $8.7 billion a year ago.

MONTEREY COUNTY

Guests on local

radio, TV shows

"What's The Point?": Max Kane of FarmMatch.com, 8p.m. Tuesday, KRXA 540 AM and krxa540.com.

"Winslow Art": Jordan and Todd Champagne, Happy Girl Kitchen, 1 p.m. Thursday, Comcast Channel 19, www.kymbtv.comandwww.jwwinslow.com.

— Staff and wire reports