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More than 1.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, further evidence of the devastation the coronavirus outbreak has unleashed on the U.S. economy. The continuing wave of job cuts is occurring against the backdrop of a spike in virus cases that has led many states to halt plans to reopen businesses.

American consumers increased their spending in June by a solid 5.6%, helping
regain some of record plunge that occurred after the coronavirus struck hard
in March and paralyzed the economy. But the virus’ resurgence in much of the
country could impede further gains.

U.S. energy consumption plummeted to its lowest level in more than 30 years
this spring as the economy largely shut down due to the coronavirus. The
decline reported Wednesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration was
driven by less demand for coal to produce electricity and oil that’s refined
into gasoline and jet fuel.

Surging sales of cancer medicines and reduced spending helped Merck overcome
a big hit from the coronavirus pandemic and increase its profit 12% in the
second quarter. The Kenilworth, New Jersey, drugmaker has increased its
financial forecast for the year, all while it’s investing in development of
two experimental vaccines and a possible treatment for COVID-19.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota recently
issued a warning about fake “face mask exemption” cards making the rounds.
The card features a look alike U-S Department of Justice seal. The
department has not granted permission for the use of the seal. The CDC
recommends facial coverings in areas where social distancing guidelines may
be difficult to maintain.

U.S. average rates on long-term mortgages declined this week, remaining near
historic lows as the key 30-year loan slipped back below 3%. Mortgage buyer
Freddie Mac reports that the average rate on the 30-year home loan eased to
2.99% from 3.01% last week. The benchmark rate hasn’t fallen below the 3%
mark for 50 years.

The state Mill and Elevator in Grand Forks had a profitable fiscal year,
despite the challenges of COVID-19. Mill Manager Vance Taylor reported the
fourth quarter profits at $1,412,000. Taylor says in April, the shipping
volumes dropped by 30 percent, as some restaurants and schools closed
because of the pandemic.

Mercer, McLean and Oliver Counties – known collectively as Coal Country –
were among the top 10 counties in North Dakota last year for highest average
wages. Statistics released by the North Dakota Job Service showed that
average wages in North Dakota grew from $53,356 statewide in 2018 to $54,103
in 2019. That’s the third straight year that average wages have increased
across the state.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) is scheduled to resume
driver license renewal services at part-time Driver License locations across
the state beginning August 3. These services are by appointment only. At
this time, NDDOT is focused on serving customers with a driver’s license
that expired March 1 – August 31, 2020 and will continue to schedule
appointments based on immediate need.

The North Dakota Bankers Association (NDBA) recently elected three officers
and several new board members for its board. Jolene Muscha, president of
the Bank of Glen Ullin, will serve as NDBA chair. Christie Obenauer, CEO
and president of Union State Bank in Hazen, is NDBA’s chair-elect. Kathy
Torske, president and CEO of American Trust Center in Bismarck, was elected
NDBA treasurer.

Soldiers of the Fargo-based Battery C (Charlie Battery), 1st Battalion,
188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment were formally presented the 2019
Hamilton Award at the N.D. National Guard’s Camp Grafton Training Center
near Devils Lake. This award is presented annually by the U.S. Army Air
Defense Artillery (ADA) branch to the ADA battery that demonstrated
exceptional achievement and mission accomplishment through the course of the


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