Mortgage rates

drop to lowest level since April

•WASHINGTON - Rates on 30-year mortgages fell for the seventh time in the past eight weeks, dropping to the lowest level since early April.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday that 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages dipped to 6.43 percent this week, down from 6.47 percent last week.

Rates on 30-year mortgages had hit a four-year high of 6.80 percent on July 20 before beginning the sustained slide.

Investors have become more convinced in recent weeks that a drop in oil prices will keep inflation under control and allow the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates steady.

Union leader:

Ford to buy out 75,000 workers

•DETROIT - Ford Motor Co. plans to offer buyout and early retirement packages to more than 75,000 of its employees, a United Auto Workers union official said Thursday.

The union told its members about the plan after discussions with Ford on the proposal, said Chris Kimmons, president of UAW Local 919 at the Norfolk, Va., assembly plant.

The buybacks are aimed at helping Ford cut costs as its sales shrink under fierce competition from more fuel-efficient models from Asian automakers.

Ford's board of directors has been meeting for two days over expanding its restructuring plan. The nation's second-biggest automaker said at midday Thursday that it would announce details of the new plan at 7 a.m. today.

Retail rates

slow in August

•WASHINGTON - Retail sales in August posted the weakest showing in two months as worried consumers curbed their spending habits.

The Commerce Department reported that the nation's retailers saw a tiny 0.2 percent increase last month following a much bigger 1.4 percent rise in July. It was the weakest performance since sales had actually fallen by 0.5 percent in June.

Much of the August weakness reflected a sharp slowdown in auto sales, which edged up just 0.4 percent last month after having surged by 4.3 percent in July.

Stocks end mixed

on import price data as oil falls

•NEW YORK - Wall Street was mixed Thursday, with blue chips falling and technology stocks managing a slight gain while investors tussled with their concerns about inflation and the overall health of the economy.

Lower oil prices, which have helped drive stock rallies in recent days, remained a bright spot but another drop Thursday wasn't enough to offset investor concerns about inflation ahead of next week's Federal Reserve meeting. Investors grew uneasy

Thursday after the Labor Department reported import prices rose a larger than expected 0.8 percent in August.

- From wire reports