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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

Fixed mortgage rate rises to highest level in months

NEW YORK (AP) -- The average rate on 30-year fixed mortgages rose this week to the highest level in seven months, reflecting higher yields on long-term Treasurys.

Freddie Mac said Thursday the rate increased to 4.86 percent from 4.81 percent in the previous week. It hit a 40-year low of 4.17 percent last month.

The average rate on the 15-year loan rose to 4.20 percent from 4.15 percent -- the highest reading in six months. It fell to 3.57 percent in November, the lowest level on records starting in 1991.

Rates overall have been rising since November as investors shift money out of Treasurys and into stocks.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage fell to 3.77 percent from 3.75 percent. The five-year hit 3.25 percent last month, the lowest rate on records dating back to January 2005.

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Commodity prices fall

NEW YORK (AP) -- Commodity prices fell nearly across the board Thursday as traders appeared to sell their holdings and lock in profits before the new year.

Oil, gold and grain prices all fell, and the decline didn't seem to be based on any one economic factor or piece of news, said George Gero, vice president of global futures for RBC Wealth Management in New York. Rather, many traders seemed eager to sell higher-priced contracts to book their gains.

A key reason to sell commodities before Dec. 31 is a tax rule called "mark to market," which requires investors to pay a tax on all commodity profits they reap by the end of the year, even if they still own those commodities, Gero said. That gives traders an incentive to sell their holdings now, rather than be taxed on profits that might disappear later if the commodities lose value.

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Rattner suits settled

NEW YORK -- Just two days before leaving office, New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo opted to settle his lawsuits against financier Steve Rattner.

Rattner, a former banker who became President Obama's auto industry czar, agreed to pay $10 million to end two lawsuits that accused him of paying kickbacks to win investment business from the New York State pension fund.

Rattner was one of several investors accused of improperly securing investments from the state's Common Retirement Fund. Cuomo already won guilty pleas from eight people in the case, including former New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

The settlement brings a quiet end to what was a bitter public fight between Cuomo and Rattner.

-- Los Angeles Times

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Kickback suit settled

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Liberty Mutual has agreed to a multimillion-dollar settlement to resolve allegations that it rigged bids and paid kickbacks to agents who steered customers to the insurer's products, officials said Thursday.

Boston-based Liberty Mutual agreed to pay $2 million to Connecticut and $5.5 million to New York as part of the settlement, in which it admits no wrongdoing.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced the settlement Thursday. It stems from a 2006 lawsuit he and former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed against the company, part of a nationwide investigation into bid-rigging in the insurance industry.

They had accused Liberty Mutual of making payoffs to insurance brokers and independent agents to steer customers to Liberty Mutual's products. That practice cheated customers of a chance to get the lowest-priced and most suitable insurance coverage.

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Sponsors stay with Favre

ATLANTA (AP) -- Sponsors are sticking by Brett Favre after the NFL fined him $50,000 for failing to cooperate in an investigation into allegations he sent inappropriate messages and lewd photos to former New York Jets game-day hostess Jenn Sterger.

A spokesperson for VF Corp.'s Wrangler jeans said the brand still has the 41-year-old Minnesota Vikings quarterback under contract. The company wouldn't comment about the NFL fine. Its commercials featuring Favre are still running.

Snapper, a unit of Briggs & Stratton Corp., that makes lawnmowers, snow throwers and other products, has an image of Favre on its website and says Favre remains a spokesperson.

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