Pending sales slip

NEW YORK — Upbeat news about jobs and the retail industry helped stocks end their longest losing streak of the year.

Unemployment claims fell close to their lowest level in six years last week, the government reported Thursday.

A pair of big retailers also delivered encouraging news. Shares of Bed Bath & Beyond rose after its quarterly profit increased 11 percent. J.C. Penney climbed after it said it is pleased with its turnaround efforts.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 55.04 to close at 15,328.30. The S&P 500 rose 5.9 to close at 1,698.67. The Nasdaq climbed 26.33 to 3,787.43.

Charleston-based Bank of South Carolina Corp. bumped up its quarterly dividend by a penny, or about 8 percent, to 13 cents a share. The higher rate is payable Oct. 31 to stockholders of record as of Oct. 7, the lender announced Thursday.

“Continued contributions from our mortgage operation and an increase in bank lending coupled with excellent control of expenses is leading to a strong year for the bank,” said CEO Fleetwood S. Hassell.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate from April through June, an improvement from the first three months of the year. But economists are worried that growth may now be slowing.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that its final look at economic growth in the spring was unchanged from a prior estimate made last month.

However, the components of growth were altered slightly. Businesses added a bit less to their stockpiles and exports did not grow as fast as previously thought. These downward revisions were balanced by slightly stronger spending by state and local governments.

WASHINGTON — Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy U.S. homes in August, the third straight decline. The drop could mean that some buyers are worried about mortgage rates, which have been creeping higher in recent months.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales declined 1.6 percent to 107.7 last month. The index has fallen for three straight months after reaching a 6.5-year high in May.

The pending home sales index measures signed contracts. Buyers typically complete sales one to two months later.

WASHINGTON — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell this week to their lowest point in two months. The decline follows the Federal Reserve’s decision last week to hold off slowing its monthly bond purchases.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year loan dropped to 4.32 percent from 4.50 percent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan declined to 3.37 percent from 3.54 percent. Both are the lowest averages since July 25.

Mortgage rates are nearly a full percentage point higher than in May.

NEW YORK — A senior partner at a New York accounting firm pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he aided financier Bernard Madoff in his epic fraud. Paul Konigsberg, 77, faces five charges that he conspired with Madoff and helped him lie to investors.

Prosecutors say he is the only person outside the Madoff family to have held an ownership interest in Madoff’s private investment business.

Konigsberg has been released on $2 million bail. Madoff is serving a 150-year prison sentence.

Staff and wire reports