ARC gives coal region $26.5 million in grants
The Appalachian Regional Commission is spreading $26.5 million in awards to nine states to assist struggling coal communities.
The commission said Thursday that the money is projected to create or retain more than 5,400 jobs and leverage more than $193 million in private investments in those areas.
West Virginia is set to receive about $7.6 million of the grant awards, while Kentucky will receive nearly $3 million and Tennessee about $1.5 million.
The commission says programs will support workforce training and education in manufacturing, tech, health care and other industry sectors.
The money was made available through the commission's POWER initiative, Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization. To date, ARC has awarded $120 million through the POWER Initiative to help coal-impacted communities in 309 Appalachian counties, including Hamilton, Sequatchie, Marion, Bledsoe, Rhea and McMinn counties in Southeast Tennessee.
Mortgage rates rise to seven-year high
Long-term U.S. mortgage rates leaped this week to their highest levels in seven years amid global anxiety over rising interest rates that has gripped financial markets.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages jumped to an average 4.90 percent this week from 4.71 percent last week. That's the highest level for the benchmark rate since April 2011. A year ago, it stood at 3.91 percent.
The average rate on 15-year, fixed-rate loans rose to 4.29 percent this week from 4.15 percent last week.
Despite the higher borrowing costs for home buyers, Kathy Tucker, managing broker of Cry-Leike Realtors and president elect of the Tennesee Realtors, said mortgage rates "are still historically pretty low" and have not yet proven to have any major impact on the real estate market.
"Our biggest problem remains the lack of inventory," Tucker said.
Sears stock plunges amid bankruptcy fear
Shares of Sears Holding Corp. plunged another 29.7 percent Thursday after a report in The Wall Street Journal that banks are pushing the 130-year-old retailer to liquidate.
Sears shares had already allen 86 percent this year and only a quarter of the 4,000 stores operating just six years ago still have the lights. CEO and chairman Eddie Lampert, who owns 31 percent of outstanding shares, appears to be unwilling to extend another lifeline.
"The prognosis is gloomy, just as it has been for many years," said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.
Word that lenders are pushing for liquidation, Saunders said, is a sign that Sears is a company with no inherent value and is "broken operationally as well as financially."
"At some point, the music has to stop," Saunders said. "We believe that time is now."
Sears still employs 89,000 people.
BMW invests in China electric car joint venture
German automaker BMW is taking a majority stake in its China joint venture and investing 3 billion euros ($3.5 billion) in factories there, underscoring the importance of the Chinese market as the company prepares to meet increased demand for electric vehicles.
Munich-based BMW said Thursday it would pay 3.6 billion euros ($4.2 billion) to raise its stake in BMW Brilliance Automotive Ltd. to 75 percent from 50 percent.
Alongside the deal, BMW will invest in new and existing plant facilities in Shenyang, increasing production capacity to 650,000 vehicles a year from the early 2020s. The plants produced 400,000 vehicles last year.
A new plant will be able to produce fully electric, partly electric, and conventional vehicles on the same line.
The Chinese government has issued a new energy vehicle mandate which uses a system of credits to push automakers to increase the share of battery-only and hybrid cars in their sales mix. The policy is expected to increase the number of electrically powered vehicles in the world's largest car market in coming years. Last year, battery-only and hybrid cars were 2.2 percent of the Chinese market; the International Council on Clean Transportation estimates that could rise to around 4 percent by 2020 under the policy.
The country is BMW's single largest sales market, with 560,000 vehicles sold there last year.