U.S. government agencies released a mixed bag of reports Thursday:
The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits declined 20,000 last week to 331,000, suggesting that Americans are facing fewer layoffs and better job prospects, the Labor Department reported.
The U.S. trade deficit widened, rising to $38.7 billion in December, a 12 percent increase over a four-year low in November, the Commerce Department said.
U.S. productivity grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the October-December period, down slightly from a 3.6 percent growth rate in the third quarter, the Labor Department reported.
Average U.S. rates for 30-year fixed mortgages fell to 4.23 percent this week, from 4.32 percent last week, continuing to indicate a pause in the housing market's recovery, mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said.