BellSouth drops 26 percent in first-quarter profit

•ATLANTA - BellSouth Corp., the dominant local telephone provider in nine southeastern states, reported Thursday a drop of more than 26 percent in first-quarter profit on a slight increase in revenue.

The results, announced before the market opened, narrowly beat Wall Street expectations, when certain one-time items are excluded.

The Atlanta-based company said it earned $784 million, or 43 cents a share, for the three months ended March 31, compared with a profit of $1.06 billion, or 58 cents a share, for the same period a year ago. In the first quarter of 2005, it recorded a gain of $390 million related to the sale of some Latin American properties.

30-year mortgage rates hit nearly four-year high

•WASHINGTON - Rates on 30-year mortgages marched up this week to their highest point in nearly four years, a factor that is taking some oomph out of the housing market.

Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, reported Thursday that for the week ending April 20, rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 6.53 percent, up from 6.49 percent last week.

This week's rate was the highest since the week ending July 12, 2002, when 30-year mortgage rates stood at 6.54 percent.

Jobless claim rate declines

•WASHINGTON - The number of new people signing up for jobless benefits last week fell sharply, a fresh sign that employers are feeling better about the business climate.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications filed for unemployment insurance dropped by 10,000 to 303,000. Last week's decline was steeper than analysts were expecting. Before the report was released, they were forecasting claims to fall to 308,000.

- From wire reports