EMJ to manage VW expansion

Chattanooga-based EMJ Corp. has won a contract for a little more than $1 million to provide oversight of the site work for Volkswagen's plant expansion for the city and Hamilton County.

Jay Jolley, the construction company's chief executive, said EMJ performed a similar task for the city and county when the original plant was constructed. Vehicle assembly began at VW in 2011.

"I think it's great that a local company gets a chance to participate in the work," he said.

The city, county and state is providing an estimated $274.3 million in financial incentives to the VW project.

VW plans to spend $600 million locally on the expansion and hire 2,000 more workers to produce a new midsize SUV. Production is to start in late 2016.

Refinancing eyed with rate declines

With mortgage rates sliding for a fifth straight week, the possibility of locking in a rate below 4 percent is tempting for consumers and could unleash a wave of refinancing. It may even convince some Americans to buy their first home.

Yet there are limits to how far the wave can extend. Millions of homeowners already refinanced in 2013, when the average 30-year mortgage rate stayed below 4 percent until mid-year. And the overall housing market remains hampered by tight mortgage credit, rising home prices and stagnating incomes.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 3.92 percent this week. The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, retreated to 3.08 percent from 3.18 percent.

About half of all homes with a mortgage have rates at about 4.3 percent or less, according to real estate data provider CoreLogic. It may not be worth it for those homeowners to refinance at current rates because refinancing carries its own costs and fees.

Nela Richardson, chief economist at real estate brokerage Redfin, estimates that only homeowners with rates higher than 4.25 percent would see a net benefit from refinancing.

Sears may close 100 more stores

Sears Holdings Corp. plans to close more than 100 stores, including its Kmart locations in Huntsville and Dothan, Ala., and lay off more than 5,000 employees, according to a report Thursday from the investor website Seeking Alpha.

Sears said in August it had closed 96 stores in the six months since February and planned to close a total of 130 underperforming stores during the full fiscal year. It added at the time that it may shutter additional stores beyond the 130 target.

Seeking Alpha cited liquidation sale notices sent out last month for its report that Sears will shutter 55 Kmart stores, 30 Sears department stores and 31 Sears Auto Centers. None of the affected stores are in Tennessee or Georgia, according to a list published by Seeking Alpha.

Economy gauge posts gain

A gauge designed to predict the economy's future health posted a solid increase in September after no gain in the previous month.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators rose 0.8 percent last month following a flat reading in August which originally had been reported as a small 0.2 percent gain. It was the best showing since a 1.1 percent advance in July.

Economists expect that continuing strong gains in employment should boost incomes and help support solid economic growth in the United States in coming quarters despite a weaker outlook overseas.

"The financial markets are reflecting turmoil and unease, but the data on the leading indicators continue to suggest moderate growth in the short-term," said Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein.