Mortgage rates at record lows again

WASHINGTON -- Mortgage rates fell to the lowest level in decades for the eighth time in nine weeks, a sign that investors are concerned about the weak economy.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said the average rate for 30-year fixed loans this week was 4.42 percent, down from 4.44 percent last week. That's the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking rates in 1971.

The average rate on 15-year fixed loans dropped to 3.9 percent, down from 3.92 percent last week and the lowest on record dating back to 1991.

Rates have fallen since spring as investors sought the safety of Treasury bonds, lowering their yield. Mortgage rates tend to track those yields.

PC giant Dell sees improved earnings

ROUND ROCK, Texas -- Personal computer maker Dell said Thursday that its net income improved 16 percent in the most recent quarter.

Companies spent more on servers, storage and computers for employees in the quarter, which pushed earnings for the world's second-largest computer maker up to $545 million, or 28 cents per share. Revenue rose 22 percent to $15.5 billion.

Dell's gross profit margin fell to 16.6 percent from 18.7 percent a year ago. That's the percentage of revenue left after subtracting the cost of making products. Prices remained high for some PC components in the quarter.

Caterpillar posts strong July sales

PEORIA, Ill. -- Caterpillar said Thursday that sales of its equipment improved 32 percent in July when strong sales in Asia and North America drove the firm's third straight positive month.

The company said equipment sales in the Asia Pacific region surged 41 percent, and North American sales improved 38 percent. Sales were up in every region.

Caterpillar's sales figures are considered an indicator of global economic health, because Caterpillar is the largest maker of construction and mining equipment.

Textile firm plans to open Upstate mill

GREENVILLE -- An Italian company that makes specialty fabrics is opening a plant in the Upstate that will create about 80 jobs. The Greenville News reported Thursday that Saati Group plans to create 84 jobs in the next three years at an old plant in Fountain Inn.

The plant will be part of a division that makes technical fabric for a number of uses, including bulletproof vests and vehicle armor. Most of the jobs will be in direct manufacturing.

John Ballato of Clemson University said the school may do some research for the plant's advanced materials.

Force Protection gets job modification

Ladson-based Force Protection Inc. said it has received more overseas work under a recent change to an existing military contract.

The armored-truck maker said the $14.5 million modification calls for continued field-service support work, including general maintenance, and for kits to upgrade vehicles in Afghanistan.

The work is expected to be completed by next June 30. The contract is with the Marine Corps Systems Command.