Mortgage rates steady at 4.55 percent

The key long-term U.S. mortgage rate held steady this week, providing a lure for potential homebuyers as the spring buying season goes forward.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages was 4.55 percent, unchanged from last week. The benchmark rate rose steadily for most of April, reaching its highest level in more than four years. By contrast, the rate averaged 4.05 percent a year ago.

The average rate on 15-year, fixed-rate loans declined slightly to 4.01 percent from 4.03 percent last week.

Despite higher borrowing costs and home prices, demand for home purchases has grown in the spring buying season as the economic outlook has continued to improve and bolstered consumer confidence.

Homes sold at a solid annual pace of 5.6 million in March, the National Association of Realtors reported last week, even though the number of houses for sale has plunged. As a result, average home prices are rising at more than twice the pace of wages.


VW Atlas named Best Famly SUV

The Chattanooga-made 2018 Volkswagen Atlas was named "best family SUV" by the Northwest Automotive Press Association at the 2018 Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year competition.

For more than 20 years, NWAPA has held the event to evaluate the best SUVs, crossovers and pickups available to consumers. Vehicles are tested on closed courses that replicate conditions active buyers in the Northwest might encounter in their daily and weekend travels and adventures, according to VW.

"In a very competitive segment, the Atlas delivers a winning combination. Its spaciousness, configurability and capability make it an ideal vehicle choice for buyers all over the U.S.," said Derrick Hatami, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Volkswagen of America.


Consumer prices rise 0.2 percent

American drivers paid more for gas, but overall consumer prices rose only modestly in April, a sign that inflation remains mild.

The modest pace of consumer inflation may send a reassuring signal to the Federal Reserve, which is considering how quickly to raise interest rates this year.

The consumer price index rose 2.5 percent in April from 12 months earlier, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the sharpest year-over-year increase in 14 months. But excluding the volatile food and energy categories, the so-called core prices ticked up just 0.1 percent in April and 2.1 percent from a year earlier.

Declines in the cost of new and used cars, as well as for wireless phone services and cable television, offset higher prices for gas, rents, and medical services.

The overall consumer inflation rate has increased steadily since June, when it measured just 1.6 percent from a year earlier. Core prices, though, have risen more slowly.


Older Jeeps recalled for suspension problem

Fiat Chrysler is recalling more than 325,000 older Jeep SUVs in North America to fix a suspension problem that could limit a driver's control of the vehicles.

The recall covers Liberty SUVs from the 2004 through 2007 model years. Fiat Chrysler says water can get into the rear lower control arms and cause rust and possibly cracks. That could hurt a driver's ability to control the SUVs and cause a crash.

The company says it knows of one crash but no related injuries.

Dealers will replace the rear control arms at no cost to owners. The recall is expected to begin in June.


Mercedes to recall 43,000 Smart cars

Under pressure from the U.S. government, Mercedes-Benz is recalling nearly 43,000 tiny Smart cars because the engines can catch fire.

The recall covers the Smart for two cabrio and coupe cars in the U.S. from the 2008 and 2009 model years. It comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation in 2016.

Mercedes says in government documents that an insulation mat can deform, deteriorate and loosen over time. That can allow it to touch hot exhaust system components and catch fire.

The government found 27 reports of engine fires in the cars with one injury.

Dealers will replace the rear insulation mat with an improved one. The recall is expected to start in July.